There's a theory doing the rounds in the basketball world. Boomer Patty Mills is greater than NBA Patty Mills.
Hard to argue given the Olympics is where Mills made his name as a teenager in 2008. More than a decade later he's still dominating the international game, leading Australia's quest for an elusive medal.
A cursory glance at the numbers will lead you to an unequivocal answer. Yes, Mills is a Boomers beast. He led the way for an Australian outfit adjusting to life without Aron Baynes, scoring a game-high 24 points and recording six assists to inspire an 89-76 win over Germany.
But is it really true? Does Mills become Super Patty when he ditches the world of megastars in the United States for the green and gold?
Delve a little deeper and you get the real answer. The difference, apart from multi-million-dollar contracts, is what Mills means to the Boomers, not what the Boomers mean to Mills.
Now 33, Mills has always been the type of player willing to bleed for whatever team he's on. He's a team-guy first, pushing aside self interest to chase overall success.
It's why he spent the first part of his career waving towels on the bench rather than scoring points. It's why he carried the Australian flag into the opening ceremony last week.
Australia has fallen in love with Mills all over again in the past 12 months, as much for his work off the court as it is for his efforts on it.
He's carrying the weight of a medal-starved Boomers fanbase, not that you'd know it to look at the poise and calmness on show in Tokyo.
But Australian passion isn't why he's dominating international opponents. That's thanks to the Boomers game plan, which is drawn up to give Mills more opportunities than he gets in the NBA.
For his part, Mills is unapologetic about the beast he becomes when he pulls on an Australian singlet and nor should he be. "I am who I am," Mills said before the Olympic campaign began.
"It's just the different roles that I play. That's the easy answer."
And there in lies the difference between Boomer Patty and NBA Patty. He's a role player, not a different player.
When he strides out for the Boomers, his role is to lead Australia on its quest to win a medal - the goal Mills has been chasing for 13 years.
To achieve that, Mills needs to be the chief scorer. He needs to play almost every minute and he needs the ball in his hands.
When he steps off the NBA private jets and into arenas, he's a different role player. He's still a leader, but plays are drawn up differently and Mills adjusts accordingly.
It's the sort of attitude NBA teams and fans should crave, rather than casting doubt about Mills' ability to produce.
"The fact is, coming here to San Antonio, I accepted a role within a tight family, in an environment that was iconic to a winning franchise, and was actually about to make a massive impact in doing so," Mills told ESPN last year.
"We all make sacrifices along the way to achieve something. Me passing up opportunities on my dream of being a starting point guard was one of them.
"Do I regret that? No. But, my decisions have always been based on the bigger, more broader picture of my development as a player, that also stretch way beyond basketball."
The Olympics have been perfectly timed throughout Mills' career. They catapulted his name on to NBA scout reports when he took on Kobe Bryant in 2008, averaging 14.2 points in six games. The following year he was selected with pick No. 45 in the NBA draft.
He dominated the competition at the London Olympics, leading all scorers with 21.2 points per game and then 21.3 points per game in Rio four years later.
Less than 12 months after both Olympic campaigns, Mills signed contract extensions with the San Antonio Spurs.
And so we land in Tokyo, albeit a year later than expected, and Mills is being thrust back into the spotlight as the Australian leader and one of the competition's most dangerous scoring weapons.
Mills' NBA future is in the air, which probably explains all the conversation about the difference between Boomer Patty and NBA Patty.
Mills has been mentioned as a free-agent target for the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Clippers. There is also the option to stay at the Spurs.
The 12-year NBA veteran was the Spurs' leading three-point shooter last season, finishing with 161 from 429 attempts.
The past four seasons have been the most productive of his career. He averaged 10.8 points in 24.8 minutes per game in 2020-21 and 11.6 points in 22.5 minutes per game in 2019-20.
They're the highest numbers of his time in the league and reflect his standing as a senior Spur capable of producing when given time and space. Mills doesn't care for the debate. He's only thinking about one thing - gold. "I've got tunnel vision," Mills said.
Boomer Patty and NBA Patty are the same man. They're just on different missions.
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