Monday, June 16, 2014

Patty Mills, the Spurs and the Stolen Generations of Australian Children



In the third quarter of the Spurs' vanquishing of the Heat Sunday night, Patty Mills launched beautiful arching three point shots. Small, 5'11", he outhustles others. After Kawhi Leonard, the series' most valuable player and breakout star, he was also a great contributor.

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The Spurs have the most international team in basketball. They speak many languages (Manu Ginobili communicates with Tiago Splitter in Spanish and with Marco Belinelli in Italian; Tony Parker (Belgian/French) and Boris Diaw often speak French to each other; Mills, an indigenous Australian and Aron Baynes, also an Australian, have their own dialect; even Tim Duncan is from the US Virgin Islands. Greg Popovich spoke about Mabo Day for aboriginals in early June at a team meeting and said something of what it meant to Mills.

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Looking into multicultural heritage, discarding racism, uniting the team, that is part of Pop's wonder as a coach (he has now won 5 NBA championships).

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"Popovich has long espoused the virtues of an international roster, not merely because the players have a diverse set of skills but also because having them around enhances his own life. Popovich, who was born to a Serbian father and a Croatian mother, takes great pleasure, he said, in learning about his players’ lives and backgrounds. On road trips, the Spurs visit museums together.

'I think it’s just a respect for letting them know you understand they’re from another place,' Popovich said, adding, 'We all grew up differently.'

Popovich, who majored in Soviet studies at the Air Force Academy, draws on his past experiences when he interacts with players, and it goes beyond quizzing them on world affairs. When Hedo Turkoglu and Rasho Nesterovic were Spurs teammates several years ago, Popovich was capable of conversing with them in broken Serbian."

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Popovich is the anti-(the original) Bear Bryant or Al Campanis or Donald Sterling...

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Mabo Day was a long time coming:

"In 1992, Eddie Mabo, a Torres Strait Islander, won a land-rights case against the government, which had dismissed indigenous land claims as being on empty land. Five years later, the National Inquiry findings were issued and the government declared National Sorry Day to commemorate the Stolen Generations, though it was not until 2008 that a prime minister formally apologized."

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Australian history parallels the American stealing of indigenous lands - Denver, for example, is built on the Sand Creek Massacre and driving the Cheyennes and Arapahos out of Colorado - the Israeli illegal Occupation of Palestinian territories and "transfer," and the Chinese ethnic cleansing in Tibet. America has done the genocide, and like Australia, now recognizes to some extent what it did, and takes timid steps toward healing; Israel is in the hourly act of criminality as is China, and the founding amnesia that surrounds these processes is thick, pathetic.

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In the third quarter, the announcers even discussed Patrick Mills' aboriginal heritage and his pride in it. What they did not discuss is the genocide against aboriginals committed by the Australian state, which has only come to apologize for it - National Sorry Day - in the last 15 years...

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Yvonne, Mills, Patty's mom, an Austrialian aboriginal was kidnapped from her parents by state and church, split up from her brother and sisters, and settled in a "white" home. She is part of the Stolen Generations among aboriginals:

"Yvonne Mills is a member of the Stolen Generations. That term refers to the indigenous children who were removed from their families and placed with white families as part of a government- and church-sanctioned program that began in the late 1800s. It was not outlawed in all states until 1969.

Born on the rural western edge of South Australia, Yvonne said, she was separated from her brother and three sisters, all of them older, when she was 2 ½ years old. She was placed in an institution before being sent to live with another family.

'I was always told she didn’t want me,' said Yvonne, who along with her siblings learned otherwise when their family’s files were released after a National Inquiry report on the separation of indigenous children from their families was issued in 1997. “I just had a few letters, but my brother had a large stack. She wrote: ‘I want my children back. Please give me my children back.’ ”

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This is a tragedy of adoption generally, intensified by forced, racist transfer.

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Patty Mills' parents both work hard for indigenous people:

"Yvonne and Benny, who have lived in the capital, Canberra, since they were married in 1982, have been deeply involved in supporting indigenous programs. Yvonne works for the capital government, developing policy and managing finances for indigenous health and education programs. Benny, who was dissuaded from becoming a pearl diver by his father, was sent to a boarding school in Cairns and has worked on federal assistance programs aimed at Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders."

The Torres Islanders are a different indigenous tribe.

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Such child stealing - see the film Philomena - has a terrible effect on both mother and child. For aboriginals, it is part of the United Nations' definition of Genocide - see the Convention against Genocide here which includes the forced resettling of children of one group in another. This was done widely to American and Canadian indigenous people by the Catholic and Protestant Churches; as the NPR series in 2011 highlights, it is still a vile fact of life in South Dakota - see here and here.

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Article 2 reads:

"In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

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Article 2 was motivated by the Nazi stealing of some 200,000 blue-eyed blonde children from Poland - given "IQ tests," skulls measured through anthropometry - resettled in rural German homes. See the Clarissa Henry and Marc Hillel film, "Of Pure Blood."

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The treatment of aboriginals was just like Jim Crow in the American South or apartheid toward Palestinians in Israel - see here:

"Some Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are old enough to remember an era when they could not sit with whites in theaters or use public toilets. They also lacked the same access to education and health care.

That they often lived on the fringe of towns was an apt metaphor for their place in society.'

'They came off missions and reserves; they didn’t always have jobs and homes to live in,' Yvonne said. 'Aboriginal people have this feeling of shame, of being unequal. They’ve carried this shame all these years, and you can understand why. They don’t want to compete against a white person.'"

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What Yvonne refers to are standard transgenerational effects of genocide for which the process of healing - when the injury is not being freshly aggravated - is long (h/t Ramona Beltran who names this "transgenerational trauma").

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Although perhaps an overly optimistic account by the Times' reporter,

"Benny and Yvonne made sure Patty would not have any insecurity. He played for the Shadows at age 4, immersed himself in sports like track and rugby, and attended Catholic schools until he turned 15, when he was admitted to the Australian Institute for Sport. There were few other indigenous children, and when racism arose, it was dealt with quickly. If it was on the court, Patty would let his game do the talking. If it was with an adult, his parents stepped in.

'We had to get him to understand he was special,' Yvonne said."

***

Patty Mills seems vigorous and in very good spirits.

As he looked up to the track star Cathy Freeman, Paddy Mills is also an example for many indigenous children to find hope in, emulate in whatever they go into:

"[the Mabo decision in 1996] served as the backdrop for the 2000 Olympics, where Cathy Freeman, an Aboriginal sprinter, lit the flame at Sydney Olympic Stadium and later delivered a signature moment of those games, winning the gold in the 400 meters and then carrying the Aboriginal flag around the track.

That moment was — I get shivers just thinking about it,” Mills, who had just turned 12, said as he pointed to goose bumps on his forearm. “I ran track, and my pet event was the 400 meters, and I wanted to be like Cathy Freeman. The whole country was on Cathy’s back during that race. Everyone was clued in during that race seeing her cross the line and how she handled herself, not only on the track, but before and after, because she had so much pressure.”

Mills would like to serve as a similar inspiration."

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Mills, the leading scorer in the 2012 Olympics, is proud to be the first aboriginal Australian to play in and now be on a winner in the NBA championship series.

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"New York Sunday Times
PRO BASKETBALL

Flying 3 Flags and Seeking One Banner
The Diverse Heritage of the San Antonio Spurs’ Patty Mills
By BILLY WITZ JUNE 14, 2014

For Photo, see here.

Patty Mills, above at center, San Antonio’s reserve point guard, is the first indigenous Australian to play in the N.B.A. finals. Credit Hamish Blair/Getty Images

SAN ANTONIO — Benny Mills, it appears, is the type of man who is incapable of speaking without a smile, one that instantly gives his cherubic face an impish glint. His wife, Yvonne, is a more serious study, a woman who chooses her words carefully, as if they are irrevocable, and speaks them with a quiet force.

Taken together, this charming earnestness — or perhaps it is an earnest charm — is readily apparent in their son, Patty Mills, the Australian backup point guard for the San Antonio Spurs whom they prefer to call Patrick.

It is visible when he waves a towel from the bench, exhorting his teammates with a bonhomie that does not feel over the top. It is present when he dives after a loose ball, as he did Tuesday night in Miami, knocking it ahead to a teammate to kick start a fast break, because as the smallest guy on the court at 5 feet 11, what choice did he really have?

Mills is among the many examples of the team-first ethic that the Spurs are being celebrated for as they close in on an N.B.A. championship, leading the Miami Heat by three games to one entering Game 5 on Sunday night.

Photo

Mills played for Australia against Spain in a preliminary round men’s basketball game at the 2012 London Olympics. Credit Christian Petersen/Getty Images

This inclusive notion, of playing for others, runs particularly deep for Mills.

His turn on basketball’s biggest stage is a source of pride for sports-mad Australians, but being the first indigenous Australian to play in the N.B.A. finals — his mother is Aboriginal and his father is a Torres Strait Islander — is immensely gratifying for him.

Mills speaks metaphorically of flying three flags: of Australia, the Aboriginals and the Torres Strait Islands, the archipelago off the northern tip of the continent. When he dressed after Game 2, he wore a tie that was adorned with the image of a dhari, the headdress that is the emblem of the Torres Strait Islanders’ flag, and a pearl shell, which his grandfather used to dive for.

“My heritage and my culture and where I’m from mean the most to me, more than anything,” Mills said.

But questions of culture and heritage — namely, what does it mean to be Australian? — are complicated and deeply personal, and ones that the country continues to wrestle with as it moves slowly toward reconciliation with its indigenous people after generations of marginalization and abuse.

Coming to terms with that history is continuing.

“To be honest, I think I still am,” said Mills, who is 25. “There’s still stuff I’ve learned and that obviously surprises me, and that’s how it’s been since I was young. I learned gradually as I grew up and I understand more. I think it’s a long process. Learning about our past is definitely important, not only for Australians but people around the world. It’s something that Australia should never be ashamed of. It’s part of our history. It’s part of us.”

Yvonne Mills is a member of the Stolen Generations. That term refers to the indigenous children who were removed from their families and placed with white families as part of a government- and church-sanctioned program that began in the late 1800s. It was not outlawed in all states until 1969.

Born on the rural western edge of South Australia, Yvonne said, she was separated from her brother and three sisters, all of them older, when she was 2 ½ years old. She was placed in an institution before being sent to live with another family.

“I was always told she didn’t want me,” said Yvonne, who along with her siblings learned otherwise when their family’s files were released after a National Inquiry report on the separation of indigenous children from their families was issued in 1997. “I just had a few letters, but my brother had a large stack. She wrote: ‘I want my children back. Please give me my children back.’ ”

Yvonne and Benny, who have lived in the capital, Canberra, since they were married in 1982, have been deeply involved in supporting indigenous programs. Yvonne works for the capital government, developing policy and managing finances for indigenous health and education programs. Benny, who was dissuaded from becoming a pearl diver by his father, was sent to a boarding school in Cairns and has worked on federal assistance programs aimed at Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.

‘Giving People a Go’

Benny also helped establish an indigenous basketball program called the Shadows, which provided an opportunity to play for those who could not afford a conventional club. The Shadows was as much a social program as it was about basketball, an opportunity to learn life skills and feel connected.

“Australia prides itself on giving people a go,” Benny said, using the phrase that describes opportunity. “Eighty percent of the time it’s fine, but the others aren’t able to stand on their feet, get a job and have shelter. It’s about moving out of depending on the government and giving them the capacity to do it themselves. They need role models on how to do it.”

Photo
Mills with the Spurs facing the Miami Heat during the N.B.A. finals. Credit Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Some Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are old enough to remember an era when they could not sit with whites in theaters or use public toilets. They also lacked the same access to education and health care.

That they often lived on the fringe of towns was an apt metaphor for their place in society.

“They came off missions and reserves; they didn’t always have jobs and homes to live in,” Yvonne said. “Aboriginal people have this feeling of shame, of being unequal. They’ve carried this shame all these years, and you can understand why. They don’t want to compete against a white person.”

Benny and Yvonne made sure Patty would not have any insecurity. He played for the Shadows at age 4, immersed himself in sports like track and rugby, and attended Catholic schools until he turned 15, when he was admitted to the Australian Institute for Sport. There were few other indigenous children, and when racism arose, it was dealt with quickly. If it was on the court, Patty would let his game do the talking. If it was with an adult, his parents stepped in.

“We had to get him to understand he was special,” Yvonne said.

Benny added: “We told him, the best thing you can do is walk away. Come and tell us and we’ll sort it out. We felt that if he knew about his background and he was confident, he’ll put things in context and not back down.”

A Turning Point

As Patty was growing up, it was a time of great change in Australia. In 1992, Eddie Mabo, a Torres Strait Islander, won a land-rights case against the government, which had dismissed indigenous land claims as being on empty land. Five years later, the National Inquiry findings were issued and the government declared National Sorry Day to commemorate the Stolen Generations, though it was not until 2008 that a prime minister formally apologized.

That served as the backdrop for the 2000 Olympics, where Cathy Freeman, an Aboriginal sprinter, lit the flame at Sydney Olympic Stadium and later delivered a signature moment of those games, winning the gold in the 400 meters and then carrying the Aboriginal flag around the track.

“That moment was — I get shivers just thinking about it,” Mills, who had just turned 12, said as he pointed to goose bumps on his forearm. “I ran track, and my pet event was the 400 meters, and I wanted to be like Cathy Freeman. The whole country was on Cathy’s back during that race. Everyone was clued in during that race seeing her cross the line and how she handled herself, not only on the track, but before and after, because she had so much pressure.”

Mills would like to serve as a similar inspiration.

There is a documentary in the works on Mills, which will focus less on him as a basketball player (he was the leading scorer at the 2012 Olympics) than on his indigenous roots. Some of the film, titled “For My People,” was shot on Thursday Island, where his father still has relatives. He often listens to the islands’ ukulele-strained music.

“Patty embraces being a role model,” said his Spurs teammate Aron Baynes, from Queensland. “A lot of indigenous youth are fighting to get through, so if they can have somebody they can look up to, that’s a great thing.”

In the United States, Mills, who scored 14 points off the bench in Game 4, is more of a curiosity. He is often assumed to be African-American until he opens his mouth. Even his teammates are getting to know more about him. On June 3, San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich made a point at a team meeting of acknowledging Eddie Mabo Day. Popovich explained to the team why the holiday is so significant in Australian history and why it means so much to Mills.

It is the type of inclusive gesture the Spurs make a habit in their multicultural locker room. It was charming. It was earnest. And it explains why Mills feels so much at home."

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"PRO BASKETBALL

The United Nations of the Hardwood
San Antonio Spurs Use Language Barriers to Their Advantage
By SCOTT CACCIOLA JUNE 15, 2014
Photo

San Antonio’s Tony Parker, left, and Boris Diaw are French. Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and Canada are also represented on the roster. Credit Larry W. Smith/European Pressphoto Agency

SAN ANTONIO — The Spurs played seamlessly through all five games of the N.B.A. finals, moving the ball from player to player, from corner to corner, all their effortless teamwork earning them their fifth N.B.A. championship in 16 seasons.

On Sunday, they avenged their loss in last season’s finals, beating the Miami Heat, 104-87, at AT&T Center. They made a complicated game look easy — look being the operative word. On the court, it sounded a bit different and more complicated.

“You’ve got this language and that language and that language and this language,” the reserve guard Cory Joseph said before Game 5.

The Spurs, as has been well established, have developed an international flair under Coach Gregg Popovich. Eight players on the current roster were born outside the United States. Loosely translated, that means the Spurs use at least four languages — English, Spanish, French and Italian — to communicate among themselves.

Manu Ginobili, an Argentine, is the team’s one-man version of the United Nations, capable of conversing in Spanish with his Brazilian teammate Tiago Splitter and in Italian with Marco Belinelli, who was born outside Bologna. (Ginobili speaks in English with everybody else.)

Photo
The Spurs' Tiago Splitter, left, of Brazil, and Manu Ginobili, of Argentina, often speak to each other in Spanish on the court. Credit Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Boris Diaw, who is from France, converses en français with Tony Parker, who was born in Belgium but grew up in France. Both players also know some Italian, enough to eavesdrop on conversations between Ginobili and Belinelli.

Even the two team’s two Australians, Patty Mills and Aron Baynes, have their own dialect.

“We’ll hear them and be like, ‘Whoa!’ ” the assistant coach Chad Forcier said.

Tim Duncan, who is from the United States Virgin Islands, is considered an international player by the N.B.A.

Being fluent in another language helps on the team bus. Matt Bonner, who grew up in New Hampshire, seldom feels left out of conversations. But there are occasions when he does, he said.

“If Manu says something in Spanish and Tiago dies laughing, then I might be like, ‘What’d you say? Translate it!’ ” Bonner said.

Language barriers have not been an issue for the Spurs — quite the opposite, in fact. Players described it as an advantage since they can essentially speak in code to one another on the court. Parker can say something to Diaw — or even shout it across the arena — and the odds are that no one else will understand them. Likewise, Belinelli cited the benefits of playing with Ginobili.

“When me and Manu speak Italian on the court, we try to use that as an advantage,” Belinelli said. “All the time. All the time. I think it is good.”

Only a handful of players in the N.B.A. speak Italian. Belinelli rattled off a few of them: Danilo Gallinari, Andrea Bargnani and Kobe Bryant, who spent several formative years in Italy. So Belinelli tries be careful when other Italians are in his general vicinity, lest he divulge secrets during his conversations with Ginobili.

The Spurs’ predominant language, of course, is English. Everyone on the team speaks it fluently, and the coaching staff encourages the players to use English.

“We have to use our language to communicate the plays we’re calling and the defensive schemes we’re using,” Forcier said. “In terms of making sure you execute your system, communication is one of the most critical components of the game.”

In other words, everyone needs to be on the same page. If Diaw and Parker spend the entire game speaking in French, few others would understand them — teammates included — and it could cause breakdowns in their overall scheme. So they often resort to French in emergency situations — when one of them messes up, for example.

“When something urgent happens between them, they default to French,” Bonner said. “If that makes sense.”

Several of the team’s players are also known for indulging in the occasional monologue, using language not suitable for print. During ABC’s broadcast of Game 2, for example, Parker appeared to mutter an expletive to himself, pardon his French.

Timeouts, too, can be a well-choreographed adventure. After Popovich makes his points, Ginobili will lean over and reinforce the message to Belinelli in Italian. Belinelli has been in the N.B.A. since 2007, but this is his first season with the Spurs. Popovich has his own way of communicating, and understanding can be an acquired skill.

“If there’s any degree of hesitation where a language barrier could come into play, they want to make sure it’s eliminated,” Forcier said.

Popovich has long espoused the virtues of an international roster, not merely because the players have a diverse set of skills but also because having them around enhances his own life. Popovich, who was born to a Serbian father and a Croatian mother, takes great pleasure, he said, in learning about his players’ lives and backgrounds. On road trips, the Spurs visit museums together.

“I think it’s just a respect for letting them know you understand they’re from another place,” Popovich said, adding, “We all grew up differently.”

Popovich, who majored in Soviet studies at the Air Force Academy, draws on his past experiences when he interacts with players, and it goes beyond quizzing them on world affairs. When Hedo Turkoglu and Rasho Nesterovic were Spurs teammates several years ago, Popovich was capable of conversing with them in broken Serbian.

This season, Popovich has largely stuck with English, although there are exceptions. He sometimes greets Belinelli with an enthusiastic “Bonjourno!” (Or something that approximates enthusiasm for Popovich.)

“He also knows how to say, ‘Ciao!’ ” Belinelli said.

Growing up in Toronto, Joseph studied French through the ninth grade. He said he would be able to understand pieces of Parker’s conversations with Diaw if they would slow down. At least Joseph can take solace in his claim as the team’s lone Canadian.

“I just speak my own dialect,” he said. “Nobody understands me.”

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