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After 30 years, lunch of the legends

MARK it down now if you live in Adelaide because Friday, October 21 is going to be a massive day of basketball in the city.

The NBL’s most successful single-season team of all-time, the 36ers’ 1986 “Invincibles” will be celebrated and feted on the day, recalling their unprecedented 24-2 regular season in which both losses were on last-second buzzer beaters. The Sixers were six seconds from a 26-0 season.

They were 13-0 at home in the Apollo Stadium and 11-2 on the road, dropping heartstoppers at West Sydney Westars and Coburg Giants.

They finished five wins clear at the top of the table with the greatest season winning percentage of any NBL club (92.3 per cent) and the only team to compile a string of 20 consecutive home wins.

Of their 27 total victories that year, 17 were by at least 20 points.

And there was controversy too, coach Ken Cole dumped by 36ers’ management just weeks from the end of the regular season for smoking a marijuana cigarette in his hotel room on a road trip.

A player-led revolt, backed 100 per cent by the club’s fanbase, saw Cole reinstated for the playoffs which also was historical for the fact it was the NBL’s first best-of-three Grand Final series.

Adelaide took an overtime Game 1 thriller from the Bullets in Brisbane, but got caught with its party hats and balloons ready to go in Game 2, which Brisbane won at Apollo by 21.

Game 3 was a gem, the 36ers reversing the second match result to win by 22, Cole named Coach of the Year as Adelaide completed its vindication from 1985’s championship loss to the Bullets.

The Adelaide-based Free Throw Foundation, which financially assists young players in need, will present its “Lunch With The Legends” on Friday, October 21, with guest speakers to include the 36ers’ Hall of Fame coach Ken Cole, Hall of Fame shooting guard Darryl “Ice Man” Pearce and the 1986 team’s championship captain Bill Jones.

The 30th anniversary of the club – and league’s – greatest single team also will incorporate a celebration of Adelaide’s last championship outfit, the 2001-02 team, on the eve of its 15th anniversary.

The lunch will take place in the house the 36ers built - Titanium Security Arena (formerly the Clipsal Powerhouse, Distinctive Homes Dome, Brett Maher Court and Adelaide Arena) from midday until 2.30pm.

Cost $60 per person includes main course, cheese platter, tea and coffee along with a two-hour drinks package incorporating beer, wine, soft drinks and cider.

(The price includes $15 donation towards the Free Throw Foundation.)

But it doesn’t end there.

At 5pm, MAC Adelaide Lightning will host Melbourne Boomers in a huge WNBL double-header at Titanium Security Arena. That will bring SA's reigning Halls Medallist Olivia Thompson (below) back to town. 

It will be followed by today’s 36ers hosting Nate Jawai, Mark Worthington and those Cairns Taipans in a big NBL fixture at which Cole’s 1986 Invincibles again will be feted, two days out (it was October 19, 1986) from the exact day they won the club’s inaugural championship.

Don’t despair Melbourne basketball lovers. The King, Ken Cole will be speaking in your city almost a week earlier, on Saturday, October 15.

Cole arguably is Australian basketball’s most colourful figure, the only man to represent four different states at the annual Australian Championships. He was with NSW in 1961-64, Tasmania 1965, Victoria 1966-71 - including two years as playing-coach - and South Australia in 1972.

An Olympian at the 1964 Tokyo Games, Cole again was selected for Mexico in 1968 but the Boomers failed to qualify.

In 1970, he was a key member of the first Australian team to contest a FIBA World Championship, leading the Boomers in Ljubljana in the former Yugoslavia.

After playing with Melbourne East Demons and Melbourne Church - now Melbourne Tigers - he was instrumental in building St Kilda into a national powerhouse which, by 1972, won the Australian Club Championship.

It was the annual week-long ACC tournament from 1970-79 which acted as the catalyst for the formation of the NBL in 1979.

Cole (left) played for the New York Nationals against the Harlem Globetrotters touring the USA, then as a playing-coach before becoming a full-time head coach, won titles at Australian States Championships, the Australian Club Championship, the New South Wales Championship, the South Eastern Conference, the Sydney Championship, the Tasmanian Championship, Victorian Championships and South Australian Championships.

In the NBL, he took West Adelaide Bearcats into the 1983 grand final before being given the job of helming SA's unified composite team, the Adelaide 36ers from 1985.

Cole led the 36ers to the grand final, where they lost to arch-enemy Brisbane, coached by one of Cole's great friends and disciples, Brian Kerle.

Retribution was a year away in 1986, though even today the rivalry remains, with many believing the ‘86 36ers to be the greatest team of all time, others favouring the 2007 Bullets.

A cavalcade of superstars prospered under his mentoring, Olympians Eddie Palubinskas, Kerle, Tony Barnett, Andris Blicavs, Phil Smyth, Andrew Campbell, Darryl Pearce, Mike McKay to name but a handful.

Stay tuned for more details of his October 15 Melbourne appearance. And to attend the Free Throw Foundation lunch on the 21st, check details below.

BEFORE October rolls around, on Thursday, Melbourne United will host Cairns Taipans in a preseason hitout at the State Basketball Centre from 7pm.

They will back up again on Saturday at the Minerdome in Ballarat from 7pm.

The 36ers will host the CBA's Hi-Speed Shandong Golden Stars at Titanium Security Arena from 7pm on Friday. They also will play again in Murray Bridge on Sunday at Unity College at 4.30pm.

The three-game series concludes at Waikerie Sports Centre on Tuesday from 7pm.


Sep 6

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