“You try to focus on the bright side and that is while this is a large city, it’s still feels like a small community with the way people look after one another.”
The NBA season remains suspended with the league working on how it could resume, with options including moving all teams or those still in playoff-contention to Disney World in Orlando or Las Vegas to play out the season without fans in July or August.
When the NBA stopped, Mills and his 12th-placed San Antonio Spurs were four games behind the eighth-placed Memphis Grizzlies in the western conference with 19 games left in their season.
Whether time allows for the Spurs to have a chance at playing for a place in the post-season, or whether the league goes right into the play-offs, is to be decided.
But Mills understands the pandemic will change the NBA as so much of NBA life revolves around air travel, hotels, close human interaction and visiting busy public places.
“It’s the road trips, the public interactions where something like this has brought us back to how much public access we do,” Mills said.
“You think about how much of that we have as professional athletes have – airplanes, buses, hotels – it’s going to be different. There is no question about that.
“Everyone is going to be cautious and different strategies will be put in place as everyone develops the best way to attack this thing and figure out the best way to deal with it – assuming that it will come back [in full] next year.
“This will have a major effect on how the NBA is run for a long time probably.”
What will keep Mills on track regardless of how long the NBA is off court is his fourth Olympics next year, and a personal milestone as next season will be his 10th with the Spurs.
No Australian player has spent 10 campaigns playing for a single NBA team and it’s rare for someone to have a long tenure with a team unless you are a superstar like a Kobe Bryant or a Tim Duncan.
Mills is proud to not only be a leader and a bridge between the Spurs team who won the 2013-2014 NBA title and the next generation of players, but also as being an Australian who has turned San Antonio into his second home.
“It is kind of amazing,” Mills said. “I never would have thought I’d be a part of an organisation like this, let alone be approaching 10 years. I mean 11-12 years in the league is unheard of for someone like me so you never take it for granted.
“But you know, San Antonio is definitely a real special place for me, the family, the missus and the dog ever since we’ve been here.”
Mills arrived at San Antonio late in the 2011-12 season desperate to prove himself and prepare for the London Olympics with then Spurs assistant coach and Boomers coach Brett Brown.
The decade since has seen Mills enrich his life and his basketball career with the club and form a bond with his teammates, coach Gregg Popovich and the whole city.
“I say this with all honesty when I step out on the floor here in San Antonio with this silver and black, it’s turned into that same feeling that I get, you know, playing playing for the green and gold and playing for Australia,” Mills said.
“That’s unheard of in a whole lot of places. So it’s definitely become a very special place for me both on and off the court.”
Next season Mills will be in the last year of his four-year deal, so you could never rule out a trade or someone looking to pry Mills from the Spurs should they still be out of the play-off mix.
But Mills still feels the need to prove himself and wants to take on the challenge of leading the team back into contention.
He aims to keep showing that when the Spurs return, especially after the club helped him source extra gym equipment for his house so he can continue workouts.
“With people not being able to play basketball during this break, it will be tough but we are in the NBA for a reason and have developed a lot of muscle memory,” Mills said. “So although it might be ugly for a bit but it won’t take us long to hit our stride and get back to it.”
Roy Ward is a Sports writer for The Age.