Patty Mills, not known as a rhetorical flamethrower among the Boomers group, raised the concerns during a Tuesday conference call, saying the sport’s governing body hasn’t effectively catered to the players’ ‘basic needs’, and that could play a role in Ben Simmons’ availability for the team.
Whether Simmons, Australia’s first NBA All-Star, chooses to play in the 2019 FIBA World Cup has been a question for some time, but one we won’t officially know an answer to until the end of the season, according to those with knowledge of his thinking. The 22-year-old’s end-of-season contract circumstances could play a role in him potentially missing the event, but Mills raised more fundamental issues as the major cause for concern.
“Speaking on Ben's availability on this year,” Mills began. “I think, first off, it goes without saying that there's quite a significant gap between the NBA and Basketball Australia... in terms of catering to players' needs, so that we can perform at a high level night in and night out.
“It's got nothing to do with money — we don't play for Australia to get paid; we play for the pride of our country, and the opportunity to create history by being the best team in the world — but, in all honestly, there are some concerns that Basketball Australia either don't want to or can't cater to these basic needs.
“They're legitimate concerns that he (Ben) has, and rightfully so. They're concerns that we all have had for some time, and have actually had to deal with these concerns mid-tournament before.”
Some of the specific concerns, according to multiple people with knowledge of the thinking of some Boomers players, include improved living quarters during major events — an issue amplified during the 2016 Rio Olympics — as well as some players having a desire to have individual medical personnel.
The Australian Boomers will play two exhibition games against Team USA in the lead-up to the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Tip-off is on August 22 and August 24, with approximately 90% of all tickets now sold. Tickets are still available from Ticketmaster!
Mills, currently in his eighth year with the San Antonio Spurs, mentioned that he and other Boomers players had been dealing with these grievances “for a long time now,” but chose not to go into the specifics.
Basketball Australia’s recently-introduced National Teams Collective Bargaining Agreement was put in place in December to combat the concerns Mills is talking about, but it’s telling the long-time Boomers guard chose to re-raise them, and in a somewhat unprompted manner.
“In a very small way, it might be understandable; they've basically never had 11-12 NBA guys roll into a camp before,” Mills said. “Arguably half of us are NBA veterans as well.
“Ben has mentioned that he wants to play for Australia and be a part of the team.
“My personal stance to Basketball Australia is: this dude is an NBA All-Star right now; we need to do everything in our power to cater to these needs and make sure he's a part of our team... He's probably gonna be the best Australian player of all time.
“We have a very clear goal, and we see him playing a major role in achieving that goal, so we can't in any way jeopardise that. Speaking amongst the boys, everyone's on that same page.”
Reached for comment by foxsports.com.au, Simmons’ camp acknowledged Mills’ concerns, but chose not to speak publicly. Several other Boomers players we reached out to chose not to comment, or didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In a statement provided to foxsports.com.au, Basketball Australia said they have acknowledged the feedback of players like Mills.
“Basketball Australia has regular dialogue with our overseas-based players regarding our national teams and player selection for upcoming international matches and tournaments,” Acting CEO of Basketball Australia, Paul Maley, said.
“As an organisation we acknowledge our players’ feedback and our collective desire to continually improve our national team programs, in order to fulfil our ambition of providing a high performance environment for this year’s FIBA World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”
The Boomers are in the beginning of a two-year stretch that has the potential to officially thrust them into the top tier of international basketball teams on the planet.
The pair of games in Melbourne, against Team USA, will act as exhibition games for the World Cup, where the Boomers will be hoping to win their first ever medal at a major event.
That’s followed by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — starting in late July — where Mills says he wants to lead what he already calls “Australia’s best ever team.”
It would be Mills’ fourth Olympics, and, while the 30-year-old has rarely turned down an opportunity to wear the green and gold, he hopes Basketball Australia acts to improve the relationship between itself and its players.
“Like I said, we've done our part of players to get to a level that's being acknowledged and recognised; and that's 11-12 players in the NBA, with significant roles,” Mills said.
“There is that significant gap between the NBA and Basketball Australia, and I think that can be viewed as a disconnect at some times. My hope, just as well as the other guys' hope, is that they can cater to needs; as we have upped our games, in terms of the level we're playing at, so we expect the other side of our team to be able to do the same."
Olgun Uluc covers basketball for Fox Sports Australia. Twitter: @OlgunUluc