Patty Mills has become the first basketballer to win The Don Award, after his inspiring performance led the Boomers to a maiden medal at a major global tournament.
After he became the first Indigenous Australian to carry the flag into an Olympic Games opening ceremony, Mills starred as the men’s national team secure an historic bronze in Tokyo.
Australia defeated Slovenia 107-93 in the bronze medal game with NBA sharp-shooter Mills topping the scoring with 42 points.
“I never set out to win awards like this, I go about my craft as a professional and learn ways to get better and do so in carrying myself in a way I think I can inspire others,” Mills said.
“The honour isn’t necessarily about me, it’s about the impact on unity, identity, being proud of who you are and expressing that passionately.”
Mills finished the Olympic basketball competition second on total points with 140 from six games, and third in assists.
He was named as a guard in the FIBA All-Star Five representing the five best players at the Olympics and has made a solid start to his NBA spell with championship contenders the Brooklyn Nets, after a decade with the San Antonio Spurs.
The Don is presented annually at the Sport Australia Hall of Fame (SAHOF) awards – this year a television special – to the athlete or team whose deeds most inspired the nation over the past 12 months.
Meanwhile, tennis great Evonne Goolagong Cawley was awarded the inaugural Dawn Award, named in honour of SAHOF legend Dawn Fraser, which recognises an individual, team or organisation – from this or a previous generation – who are courageous, brave and have changed sport for the better.
“I have been unwell and this has been the ultimate cheer-up for me. To be the first recipient makes it even more special,” Goolagong Cawley said.
World No.1 Ash Barty was glowing in her tribute to her idol, a winner of seven grand slam singles titles.
“Evonne was an incredible athlete but more than that, she has been an enormous inspiration to generations of Australians, and to me, as a mentor and a friend…,” Barty said.
“She played her career with courage, she played it with passion and with grace and she challenged the status quo in what was a really challenging time for women in sport and the way that she was able to provide a path for others to dare to dream is absolutely remarkable.”
The awards ceremony also paid tribute to the eight inductees into the Hall of Fame: four-time Olympian and dual-gold cycling medallist Anna Meares, two-time world 400m hurdles champion Jana Pittman; former Socceroos captain and two-time Olympian Mark Viduka; 12-time Paralympian and winner of nine gold medals Libby Kosmala; Olympic hockey gold medallist Jamie Dwyer, former Australian women’s cricket captain and ICC Player of the Year Karen Rolton; four-time Olympic runner and sport administrator Steve Moneghetti; and eight-time Olympic water polo player and coach Tom Hoad.
In addition, Dennis Lillee and Ian Thorpe were celebrated after being elevated to legend status in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.