PLEASE NOTE: Some of this content mentions themes of violence and racism, some may consider disturbing.
It’s the mid-1980s and basketball in South Australia is thriving.
The West Adelaide Bearcats and Adelaide 36ers had amalgamated to reach two consecutive Grand Finals, ascending to immortality in 1986 as the Invincibles.
One of the key men responsible for much-cherished memories is ‘Mean’ Al Green, who tore up the league from 1981-1993 with his flair, prissy-speed, and incredible aerial ability.
Originally born in the tough streets of the South Bronx in New York City, Green reflected with Amato’s 5th Quarter on some of the frightening and gruesome things he saw in his childhood.
“In the time when I was growing up it was really bad,” Green told.
“I got stabbed once, I remember when I was about fourteen my friends and I were about to turn a corner and we heard this loud bang. Once we turned the corner, we saw a man on the floor shot, and you could see the bullet hole in his head.
“At the time we were in shock and quickly looked around to make sure the guy who did it was gone; we didn’t know if he saw us and was coming back to get us. Had we turned that corner 20 seconds earlier, we would have been right in the middle of it.”
Although some of these incidences seem unfathomable, Green says it was not unusual in his neighbourhood.
“For us it was every night you’d hear gun shots. When you’re brought up in it, you know how to adapt to it.”
Green fought through these difficult times, and began exploring his love for basketball.
“I knew I wasn’t a world scholar… I wanted to find something to grasp and be successful in, and it was sport,” he said.
It was however, during this time when Green would face one of the biggest obstacles in his life; racism.
Both he and future NBA Hall of Famer Bernard King ventured into a restaurant one day, where he would face discrimination in its most dramatic form.
“Bernard and I were roommates, slept in one morning and missed lunch.
“We drove into town and went into this restaurant where the staff refused to serve us and called the police, who told us we weren’t allowed to be here.”
Green makes no hesitation in showing his gratitude to live in a country that has for the most part, identified racism as an issue.
“I know most Australians do not have that hate that some white-American’s have.
“When someone says they hate you, that comes from the heart, and you see it in their eyes. You do get over it, but I’m just thankful I got out of that.
“You have to accept people for what they are, if you are honest with one another and keep it real, you’ll have an everlasting friendship.”
More Basketball News
Green continued to persevere, making his way onto two NBA rosters in the hope of playing in the sport’s pinnacle. But after being released by both clubs, says he holds no regrets.
“I played in the summer league with the Houston Rockets and played exhibition games with the Phoenix Suns,” he said
“On both occasions I was one of the final players to get cut, so if I went to a weaker team, I may have played NBA. But I enjoyed every moment.”
Shortly after his ill-fated NBA attempt and prior to arriving in Australia, Al Green also had the opportunity to explore American football. He was recruited by the San Diego Chargers as a rookie despite never playing a single game prior.
“The Dallas Cowboys sent me a letter that I still have today, they said if I was still around, they would take me in the draft, but the Chargers beat them to it. I just didn’t feel it in my heart, I loved basketball.”
When asked if he has any regrets of dismissing football, Green was quick to answer.
“No, you know who you are, and basketball is what I loved.”
Adelaide for life
This move would therefore seal the fate for all Australian basketball fans, as Green would immediately establish himself as one of the league’s premier players. In 1982 he was crowned the league’s Most Valuable Player along with winning a championship for West Adelaide.
“We were favourites to win all season and we didn’t let South Australia down,” he said.
“There was Ken Richardson as the player-coach, Ray Wood, Peter Ali and of course Leroy Loggins. We (Green and Loggins) both averaged 27 points.”
Despite his individual success, Green attributes everything to Ken Cole, who coached him at the Adelaide 36ers to two Grand Finals in 1985 and 1986.
“He was like a big brother. When I heard he had cancer, I went back to America to see him. We were up until 4am talking basketball and life.”
In 1986 the Adelaide 36ers were known as ‘The Invincibles’.
Tey averaged 130 points per game, won the minor premiership with just two losses for the season, and would defeat the Brisbane Bullets in the Grand Final series.
“Numbers don’t lie, we could see the fear in everyone’s eyes,” Green said.
“We didn’t muck around, we just got into it and were so confident.”
Green would officially retire in 1993 after 340 games, an MVP and two championships. For the past 25 years, he has been giving back to the new generation, educating children on basketball and life.
“I say to people when they ask me, I’m living the dream. When you get to that certain peak in your life, you just want to enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy doing what you do, don’t do it.”
Green has overcome many adversities in his life, from racial discrimination to failed NBA attempts. His story is one of perseverance, courage, dedication and most of all, the ability use hurt and pain as fuel to ultimately become successful.
Subscribe to our newsletter!