SA Spurs Debate: The Case against retiring Mills' number

Patty Mills
Patty Mills / Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Patty Mills successfully embodied San Antonio Spurs culture more than anyone I have ever seen in my time watching the team. He was the guy everyone wanted in the locker room, and San Antonio was lucky to have him for a decade. He bridged the gap between the Tim Duncan era, the brief Kawhi Leonard era, and whatever you want to call the stage the franchise is in today. He was the ultimate teammate.

Even so, I’m not sure that number eight should be retired. I’m not convinced it’s entirely appropriate. Over ten seasons with the Spurs, Mills was a two-assist, 10-point scorer. He knocked down some big shots and played solid minutes off the bench, but he was not nearly on the level of Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, or even Sean Elliott. 

Off the court, he was San Antonio’s best resident and a point of pride for the entire city. Mills donated all of his 1.5 million dollar salary to Black Lives Matter in Australia, created the first Indigenous Peoples’ Night at the AT&T Center, and promoted responsible COVID-19 practices in a state that was being hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

In 2011, he raised $40,000 to help those in need after flooding in Queensland and is perhaps the biggest United States-based contributor to social justice action in Australia. 

For lack of a better term, Mills was a community hero. In Australia, he has continued to focus on the community, and in San Antonio, he embraced the on and off-court cultures. 

There are very few basketball players who will leave a bigger footprint off the court than on it. Mills was a roleplayer, benchwarmer, and specialist for his entire tenure in San Antonio. While Mills' on-court impact goes beyond the numbers he put up, his stats and accolades don’t necessarily point to a jersey hanging in the rafters. People in San Antonio may want his number retired--and in fact, I want his number retired--but an illustrious off-court record may take precedence over his on-court accomplishments. 

Patty Mills is deserving of a grander celebration than a jersey retirement

As a Spur, his career very well may have been far less significant (if not forgotten) if it weren't for his energy, leadership, and philanthropic work. Hanging a jersey in the rafters makes little sense after what he has tangibly done on the court. There may be some more appropriate alternatives to sending Mills' jersey to the rafters that would still do him justice.

In his hometown of Canberra, or perhaps even in San Antonio, a street, park, or another prominent public facility could be named after him. In San Antonio, AT&T Center Parkway or the block of Houston Street that runs alongside the arena should be renamed Patty Mills Way. Not only is he the greatest Aussie baller ever, but he could be the most impactful athlete in Australia's history. I cannot think of a human being that's more worthy of public celebration than Mills.

That being said, I suspect the charitable works of Mills are just getting started, so any official commemoration may be worth waiting on for a while.

In terms of basketball honors, Mills is one of the best international players ever and certainly the best from Australia. He led the entire Olympics in scoring in 2012 and had some incredibly high-output games. In this year's Olympics, he had a 42-point game against Luka Doncic and Slovenia to win the Boomers their first men’s basketball medal in the team's history. 

Mills should be more than a lock for the FIBA Hall of Fame and, assuming he's eligible and the screening committees think he's deserving, he should be highly considered as an inductee into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

It isn't a matter of whether or not Mills should have #8 retired. That’s not the question we should be asking ourselves.

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Instead, we should be wondering what else can be done to celebrate him. Honors in the cities of San Antonio and Canberra seem like the obvious first step. Mills is a leader and face of the City of San Antonio first and a great basketball player second, and celebrating him on a citywide level would do him and his accomplishments far more justice than the hanging of a jersey.

*Note: This is part two of a debate series. You can read the case for retiring Patty Mills' jersey by clicking here.