News Article

LOYAL LEADER - Part One: 36er for life

21 Feb
8 mins read

Written By

Dale Fletcher

Adelaide 36ers Hall of Fame inductee Peter Ali talks about loyalty, the start of the 36ers, feeling invincible and that TV commercial.

When you think of the perfect role model for the next generation of basketball stars, few could look past the career of Peter Ali.

The two-time NBL champion and 1980 Moscow Olympian played 279 NBL games across 11 seasons and claimed seven titles at State League level for his beloved West Adelaide Bearcats.

Ali was the inaugural captain of the Adelaide 36ers in 1985, a strong leader and a tough defender who showed loyalty and passion not only for the club, and the state, but also his country.

The 195cm power forward now is honoured as the ninth member to be inducted into the Adelaide 36ers Hall of Fame.

“It’s one of those things where it’s great to be recognized by your peers,” Ali said.

“The fact that I have played with all those guys is great. Scotty (Ninnis), (Mark) Davis, Darryl (Pearce), (Al) Green, (Mike) McKay and Ken Cole is fantastic.”


At the conclusion of the 1984 NBL season, the decision was made for South Australia’s two remaining NBL clubs, the Bearcats and the 36ers, to merge.

Ali, who was a key part of the Bearcats roster, said at the time, both sides were struggling to attract people to the games, with West Adelaide the most dominant across the journey, but the 36ers had made the playoffs in 1984.

“Barry Richardson was the chief executive at the time at Basketball SA and I was working for Basketball SA as well,” Ali explained.

“We both said it would be great if the two teams merged”.

“After the merger and before that first 36ers game in 1985 we were hoping to get 1000 people to the game. Well, we sold out that game (at Apollo), with some 3000 people turning up”.

“And we sold out the entire time from there on until the Sixers moved to Findon.”

Ali said the Bearcats name was touted for the merged team, however the name 36ers was one synonymous to South Australia.

“It just made sense for the 36ers to be our name after the proclamation of South Australia in 1836, and we even had the Adelaide Buffalos SEABL team named after the ship that landed at Glenelg, so there was synergy with our states history,” Ali said.

“The best thing about the merger was it brought the state together, basketball was divided much like the Crows and Port rivalry prior to the merger.

“I think the nucleus of the team from West Adelaide, with Ken Cole as coach, Green, Wood, McKay, Spear and myself, brought a winning attitude to the 36ers.

“The 36ers truly commenced when West Adelaide merged with the other teams,”

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“To be the first inaugural captain of the 36ers was a true honour, it was great to be part of that team,” he said.

“Every player on the team was a starter in their own right and I thought Ken (Cole) was a master at blending the team together and developing a culture of all players being prepared to sacrifice for the team.

“We had Brian Devincenzi as our import, who played at West, he was a very good player, but Mark Davis came into the stadium, and there was no doubt who should be the starting power forward,” he said.

“Then we brought in Bill Jones to go with Davis, and Jones became captain in 1986.”

Ali said the training sessions Cole ran at the 36ers were always tougher than the games on the weekend.

“Well, you’re guarding the likes of Davis, Jones or McKay, and there was no ref,” Ali said.

“There was a variety of talent out there on the floor, so you had to craft your skills in how you played.”


After the 1985 grand final loss to the Bullets in Brisbane, the entire Adelaide roster made a pact on the team bus to all come back and go one better in 1986.

“Everyone realized that we came up short and there was a total commitment that we would do it better next year,” Ali said.

The 1986 team, called ‘The Invincibles’, lost just two games during the regular season, both times on the buzzer, and Ali said the side just had the sole focus of ‘going one better’.

“It was a memorable team, and even after we lost that second game of the grand final series, there was no doubt we were going to win the third game,” Ali said.

After claiming game one of three-game grand final series in Brisbane 122-119, the 36ers came back home to Apollo Stadium and everyone thought the title race was over. But the Bullets stunned everyone with a 104-83 victory to setup a third and deciding match.


Adelaide would claim their first championship by defeating the Bullets 113-91 in game three, but Ali said despite the big margin, the game was very hard fought.

“We faltered in game two and lost a bit of focus, but everyone came back with a steel trap mind and we had no doubt about winning,” he said.

“In that era, we were (Adelaide and Brisbane) the two best teams in the competition.”

“I’ve watched that game back on several occasions and the number of times Brisbane just kept coming back, they just wouldn’t die.

Ali, who won an NBL championship with West Adelaide Bearcats in 1982, said a potential game between The Invincibles of 1986 and the 1982 Bearcats would be a dream match-up.

“Mark Davis vs Ken Richardson, like what a game that would be, they are two Americans who changed the game here in Australia,” he said.

“That would be a tough game, like Ray (Wood) back in 1982 was just magnificent, (Brad) Dalton going against (Bill) Jones, I couldn’t pick a winner.”

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After playing his entire NBL career in South Australia, which concluded in 279 matches, 141 of them for the 36ers, Ali said there was never a thought to change allegiances.

“Before the NBL started I did play one season in Melbourne for Coburg Giants,” Ali explained.

“But that was for reasons more than basketball at that time, but during the NBL time there was no thought of moving interstate.

“I love West Adelaide and I love the 36ers.”

But back in eras past, basketball wasn’t a full-time job, which meant player movement wasn’t as big as today.

“I understand now these days it’s the players’ sole job,” Ali said.

“What shouldn’t change is the loyalty, and playing for the club is paramount.

“You see the successful teams have a nucleus of committed players – that’s what it takes to be successful.”

After the 1986 title win, there were some changes and Ali believes the club could have tasted more success.

“Had the entire team including Ken Cole stayed together, I think we could have won two more (championships),” he said.

“You had a great group of players, and (Mark) Bradtke was coming into the group at that time.

At the start of the 1985 season, the first for the Adelaide 36ers in the NBL, West End Brewery came on board as the official club naming rights sponsor.

It was the perfect fit for the merged club with the red, black and white of the West End beer cans almost paying homage to the Bearcats name and colours while keeping the 36ers name.

The West End 36ers was arguably one of the most iconic sporting names in the country, and Ali became the face of sponsorship through a television commercial campaign.

“Scotty (Ninnis) was meant to be the person (in the ad), but they couldn’t use him because they wanted someone who looked older,” Ali said.

“I got the call up and it was a lot of fun - I had a few issues trying to dunk – there is no question about that, I was waiting for them to bring out a step ladder, but they didn’t have to in the end.

“It was about half a day to film that (TV commercial) – but it felt like an entire day.

“The last bit at the pub didn’t take as many takes.”


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