THE poignancy of a newly crowned NBA champion draping himself in a blue-and-green flag was probably lost on tens of millions of American basketball fans.
But to a few thousand people living in a remote community in Australia’s far north, it meant the world.
Patty Mills, son of a Torres Strait Islander, celebrated the San Antonio Spurs’ stunning NBA Finals triumph on Monday (AEST), when they downed Miami Heat, by donning the flag of his father’s people.
And the significance of that flag being beamed around the world will not be lost on the Torres Straight Island community, according to locals.
“The Mills are a big family up here and everyone knows about Patty,” said Brian Reader, duty manager at the northernmost pub in Australia, the Torres Hotel on Thursday Island.
“The fact that he wore the flag will mean a lot to the people here. The man who designed the flag, Bernard Namok, passed away and his tombstone ceremony was held a week ago. It’s great the flag was shown to so many people at this time.”
The Torres Strait Islander flag has been around since Namok won a competition to design it in 1992. It was officially recognised the same year.
Its importance has grown with the desire of Torres Strait Islanders — who total less than 10,000 — for self-determination.
“Patty displaying the flag will mean a lot to the people here,” Aaron Smith, editor of Torres News, said.
“There is a push on for independence from Queensland and for recognition as a territory. The flag has been recognised since 1992 and it is a powerful symbol here.”
Canberra-born Mills travelled to the Torres Strait Islands last year for the tombstone ceremony — a Torres Strait Island tradition — for his grandfather and to speak to students at Tagai State College.
And today he made special mention of the community when he reflected on becoming the first Australian of indigenous heritage to win an NBA ring.
“Thank you to everyone for their support from the rural parts in the aboriginal areas on the mainland to the Torres Strait Islanders,” Mills said.
“And to everyone else in Australia in the big cities and on the coast, you have been great.”
So how was Mills’ starring role in game five of the NBA Finals received in the Torres Strait Islands?
“To be honest, there weren’t a lot of people in the pub today — just a couple of locals and the odd tour group,” Reader said.
“We had the game on in the corner but it didn’t get a whole lot of attention. We haven’t had NBA on the TV here for long so not a lot of people know about it.
“If we’d put a sign out the front saying ‘Come and watch Patty Mills in the NBA Finals’ we would have pulled a big crowd.”
Torres Strait Regional Authority chairman Joseph Elu could not be reached for comment.Originally published as The powerful message behind Patty’s flag
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