About the Club
FROM hasty, fumbly, humble beginnings, the Adelaide 36ers have grown into one of the NBL’s pre-eminent clubs and key components of Australia’s premier men’s basketball competition.
The NBL launched in 1979 and on the eve of the 1982 season, BASA called together its nine domestic clubs and the successful West Adelaide, who already had indicated it would continue as a single entity and created a “state” team to fill the second NBL slot allocated to South Australia.
In a bid to distinguish the new club from district club Adelaide Giants and to make the name all-embracing, the new club initially was called Adelaide City Eagles for its inaugural season. West Adelaide showed the wisdom of retaining its own separate identity by winning the 1982 NBL Championship, the Bearcats’ four-year history an impressive fourth, second, third, first. Adelaide City, meanwhile, completed its first NBL season in seventh place (of 13 teams) with a 15-11 win-loss record.
With the whole summer to prepare, the BASA’s merged team had time to consider a new name and struck upon naming the team the 36ers, referencing Adelaide’s settlement in 1836. The 36ers became equally well known by the shortened nickname of the Sixers and, under initial coach Mike Osborne, continued an intrastate rivalry with West Adelaide which made derby games from 1982-84 the highlights of the annual playing schedule. In 1984, the 36ers missed playoff action, finishing sixth with a 16-8 mark.
It was time to bring both NBL clubs under one banner and when they merged to become SA’s solitary NBL entrant prior to the 1985 season, a powerhouse was immediately created. West’s 1983-84 coach Ken Cole was selected over Osborne to run the merged club and inherited Darryl “Ice Man” Pearce to run in the backcourt with “Mean” Al Green. The Bearcats’ Moscow Olympian Peter Ali started at small forward and American centre Bill Jones was recruited to anchor the middle.
When Mark Davis was added after the sixth round of the 1985 season and with a side bursting with depth, the 36ers stormed into the Grand Final, creating records all along the journey. In 1986, they added naturalised former 36ers import Dwayne Nelson to the unit to go one better and win the club’s first NBL Championship. That team, the “Invincibles” produced a record 24-2 win-loss record which has never since been challenged as the greatest single season team and record of all time. The two losses both also were on last-gasp buzzer beaters, keeping Cole’s team just a few seconds short of the perfect 26-0 season. Beating Brisbane Bullets 2-1 in the NBL’s first best-of-three playoff series, the 36ers brought the second NBL Championship in five years to South Australia (with four Grand Final appearances – West Adelaide Bearcats 1982-83, Adelaide 36ers 1985-86) reinforcing the state’s dominance.
Gary Fox succeeded Cole as the 36ers’ third coach and regular season championships followed in 1987 (21-5) and 1988 (19-5). Unfortunately, Adelaide did not kick on into the Grand Final in either year, though Davis became its first league MVP award winner when he shared the coveted individual award with Brisbane’s Leroy Loggins in 1987.
Adelaide slipped short of the mark over the next few years, made notable mainly for the emergence of tyros Mark Bradtke and Brett Maher, the latter going on to become a club legend.
In 1994, under American coach Mike Dunlap, the 36ers made it back to the Grand Final but with Davis playing after dislocating his shoulder during the semi finals against Melbourne, it was always going to be a big ask. The Sixers lost to North Melbourne Giants but again had fans swooning as import Robert Rose confirmed his superstar status in Adelaide. Dunlap went on to coach in the NBA, as did Brett Brown, who coached the Giants to the flag.
When debutante coach Phil Smyth in 1998 recruited Paul Rees to play alongside former NBA pair Darnell Mee and Kevin Brooks, the Clipsal Powerhouse was hanging the “sold out” sign at every home game. The venue had opened in 1992 after the 36ers had been forced to move out of Apollo Stadium, which barely held 3500 fans. Years of fans, five and six deep queueing for tickets in lines leading out from the venue to Richmond Road had forced BASA to act in developing its new 7800 capacity facility.
Maher and company – including emerging star Martin Cattalini – had the fans screaming for more as they made South East Melbourne Magic disappear in a 1998 Grand Final series sweep. David Stiff came in for the title defence when John Rillie departed to West Sydney Razorbacks and the 36ers made it back-to-back championships, beating Victoria Titans in an epic three-game series. Maher followed Kevin Brooks (1998) as the Larry Sengstock Medallist and, as NBL champion, the team won the right to represent Australia at the 1999 McDonalds World Club Championship in Milan, Italy. Champions from Europe, Asia, South America and the US – represented by the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs – competed in the tournament, won by the Spurs.
Smyth’s 36ers returned to the NBL semi finals again in 2000 and 2001 although in the latter, they were controversially eliminated in the deciding game against the Hawks in Wollongong with three free throws awarded and converted after the siren.
The team was largely recast for 2002 and incoming Willie Farley became an immediate fan favourite. The 36ers would again go on to claim the NBL Championship – the club’s fourth – and Maher again walked away with the Larry Sengstock Medal, his second. That also made it three championships in five years for coach Smyth, with the 2002 crown perhaps the most satisfying, achieved with many workmanlike players including second import Matt Garrison, Rupert Sapwell and Dean Brogan.
The main court at the Adelaide Arena named the Brett Maher Court in honour of the club’s greatest ever player, with his #5 jersey retired and hung from the rafters next to Mark Davis’s #33.
In 2013, the 36ers secured NBL championship winning coach Joey Wright who took the team into the Grand Final series against the Perth Wildcats. While eventually losing the final series in three hard fought games, the future of the Sixers appears bright.