Back in the Day: May 1987

Back in the Day: May 1987

This week, the BA time machine touches down in May of 1987...

Winter Season Week Eight: A blow beyond belief.

-Congressional hearings open into the Iran-Contra scandal, where the profits from illegal arms sales to Iran were slaked off and used to fund anti-Communist fighters in Nicaragua. The first witness is retired Air Force General Richard Secord, who claims that ‘The Enterprise’ (his name for the illegal activities) had the support of President Reagan, who was fully aware of what was going on.

-The race to replace Reagan takes a sharp turn. Attempting to hose down speculation that he is a womaniser, leading Democratic contender Gary Hart says ‘If any journalist wants to put a tail on me, they are welcome to but they will find it very boring.’ The Miami Herald takes up the offer and finds it not so boring; they discover that Hart has been involved in an extra-marital relationship with a Dallas-based model named Donna Rice. Within a week, Hart’s campaign for the Presidency is ‘suspended.’

- Figures released by the World Health Organisation and the United States’ Centre for Disease Control capture everyone’s attention:

*48,527 cases of HIV/AIDS had been reported to that time in 105 countries, with almost half of those affected now dead

*Of that forty-eight thousand or so, 35,219 were in the United States. More than 20,000 people in that group were dead, including 494 children.

-Notable deaths during this period included noted Australian diplomat and Governor of Tasmania Sir James Plimsoll, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency William Casey and noted English racehorse trainer Sir Noel Murless

- ‘(I Just) Died in your Arms’, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ and ‘Boom Boom (Let’s Go Back to My Room)’ were topping the charts.

In basketball, the Australian team for the junior men’s World Championship in Italy (to take place later in 1987) was named. The team was stocked with future NBL and international stars such as Mark Bradtke, Marty Clarke, Shane Heal, Luc Longley, Darren Perry and Andrew Vlahov. Coach Patrick Hunt was said to be excited about the prospects of his squad. The NBA play-offs were in full swing and producing some classic moments. Whether it was the Boston Celtics trying to escape the clutches of the Milwaukee Bucks (in double OT) or Hubie Brown calling ‘Here’s Isiah, let’s see what we got’ before Isiah Thomas danced a Detroit jig, the standard of play was as high as it gets.

The Australian basketball community was plunged into a state of deep shock and sadness by the events of Thursday 7th May 1987. On that day, the body of 24 year old Robert Scrigni was found in his car at Sorrento Beach in Victoria, dead by his own hand. Scrigni, who was playing for the West Sydney Westars at the time, had been missing since the previous Monday when he had failed to appear at a school coaching clinic. A member of the 1982 Boomers who had travelled to Colombia for the World Championships, Robert Scrigni was regarded as one of the best young players in the country. As is often the case with tragedies such as this, few people had any idea why Robert Scrigni would take such a fatal step. This view was best expressed by Boomers head coach Dr. Adrian Hurley ‘I can think of a thousand reasons why he should live and not one why he should die’. His Westars teammates (in particular his close friend Damien Keogh) voted to go ahead with their match against Illawarra in his honour. Over twenty years later, it still doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense...

NBL Round 3, WNBL Round 3

Friday 8th May 1987,

Two NBL Games, One WNBL Game

NBL Game One: Hobart Devils @ Sydney Supersonics

Final score: Sonics 116-Devils 105

Sydney, riddled by injury, has their first win of the season in front of a sparse crowd at ‘The Thunderdome’ (otherwise known as the State Sports Centre). Audie Matthews is called out of retirement to boost the Sonics’ stocks: it is veteran Curt Forrester who is the star of the game with 32 points, 14 of them in the second quarter.

NBL Game Two: Canberra Cannons @ North Melbourne Giants

Final score: Cannons 122-Giants 120

The Glasshouse in Melbourne was rocking as these two arch-rivals played out a thrilling chapter in their historic rivalry. Cannons bench-warmer Tad Dufelmeier played the starring role, scoring 28 points including 17 in a frenetic final term. Not bad for a bloke who had been cut by the Cannons the previous season. The reporter for The Canberra Times said it best when he wrote ‘There is only one thing better than beating the oldest of the Cannons’ rivals...beating them at their place.’

WNBL Game: West Adelaide Bearcats @ Coburg Cougars

Final score: Cougars 59-Bearcats 52

Saturday 9th May 1987

Five NBL Games, Three WNBL Games

NBL Game One: Adelaide 36ers @ Perth Wildcats

Final score: 36ers 101-Wildcats 97.

5200 people squeezed into the Superdrome to see the confident Wildcats host the defending champions. Down 33-53 at the half, it was Perth who had been torn to shreds. A stirring fight back saw the Wildcats get to within a point with 30 seconds remaining. With the ball in hand, Cal Bruton missed the shot that could have won it for the Wildcats and Adelaide snuck home for the win. MVP for the game was Adelaide’s Mark Davis who, with 29 points and 18 rebounds, proved again that he was ‘Chairman of the Boards’.

NBL Game Two: Illawarra Hawks @ West Sydney Westars

Final score: Hawks 111-Westars 106 (after 2OT).

The Thunderdome almost sees a miracle as the Westars take a 92-89 lead with 11 seconds remaining in regulation. West Sydney’s Ollie Johnson muffed a dunk, Ray Borner caught the miss and made an outlet pass to Alphonse ‘Houdini’ Hammond, who tied the game with a three-pointer from half-court. It would take two overtime periods before the Hawks were able to continue their undefeated start to the season. Borner is the MVP with 29 points and 27 rebounds.

NBL Game Three: Hobart Devils @ Newcastle Falcons

Final score: Devils 104-Falcons 101

In a night of thrilling finishes, the Devils fought back from being 11 points down to grab the cash at Broadmeadow. Falcons coach Steve Johansen is furious with his team’s performance ‘There was no teamwork-they didn’t do what they were told. I hope it really hurts the players.’ As a side note, it is only the Devils’ fifth win on the road in their four seasons in the NBL.

NBL Game Four: Canberra Cannons @ Geelong Cats

Final score: Cannons 107-Cats 105

Canberra clings on for another heart-stopping victory, despite giving up a 17 point lead. Ian Davies racks up 38 points for the Cats, including seven three-pointers. It is Canberra’s Mel Dalgleish (19 points) who hits the game-winning lay-up with only four seconds remaining to play. Canberra, considered as having no chance to make the finals by the experts, were now right in the mix.

NBL Game Five: Westside Melbourne Saints @ Eastside Melbourne Spectres

Final score: Spectres 98-Saints 95 (after OT)

Ken Epperson’s 32 points is not enough to raise Westside out of the NBL cellar. Vince Hinchen top-scores for Eastside with 28 points.

WNBL Game One: West Adelaide Bearcats @ Nunawading Spectres

Final score: Spectres 68-Bearcats 56

The Bearcats, in the middle of a brutal schedule that sees them play six games in ten days (including four WNBL fixtures) are no match for the WNBL’s superteam and defending premiers. Robyn Maher top-scores for Nunawading with 22 points while Tracey Browning adds 14.

WNBL Game Two: North Adelaide Rockets @ Brisbane Bullets

Final score: Bullets 59-Rockets 52

Dave Nelson’s Bullets team almost coughed this game up; a twelve-point half-time lead had disappeared by mid-way through the second half. The Rockets’ 1-2 punch of Marina Moffa and Pat Mickan tallied 14 and 13 points respectively but there was simply not enough hypergolic fuel in North Adelaide’s tank.

WNBL Game Three: Noarlunga Tigers @ Australian Institute of Sport

Final score: A.I.S. 62-Tigers 60

A luggage foul-up sees a number of Tigers players put on their playing shoes five minutes before tip-off. Despite the disruption, Noarlunga comes within a hair of knocking off the 1986 grand finalists. Shelley Gorman (doing a year at the Institute before returning to Nunawading) top-scores for the Students with 20 points.

Sunday 10th May 1987

One NBL Game, Three WNBL Games

NBL Game: Westside Melbourne Saints @ Melbourne Tigers

Final score: Tigers 127-Saints 107

A sparse crowd of a couple of hundred people visit Albert Park to see the Tigers break their duck for the 1987 season. Ken Epperson again stars for the Saints with 34 points while new import centre Paul Kapturkiewicz makes an immediate impact for Melbourne scoring 43 points. Andrew Gaze was disappointing in only scoring 30 points (he had averaged 48 points per game in the Tigers’ first three games),

WNBL Game One: West Adelaide Bearcats @ Bulleen Boomers

Final score: Bearcats 72-Boomers 61

A long weekend for the Bearcats ended on a bright note as Bulleen fell to a miserable 0-4 record.

WNBL Game Two: North Adelaide Rockets @ Bankstown Bruins

Final score: Rockets 72-Bruins 58

Marina Moffa brings up 21 points as the Rockets surge into the WNBL’s top four.

WNBL Game Three: Noarlunga Tigers @ Canberra Capitals

Final score: Tigers 75- Capitals 60

With their luggage now safely stowed away, the Tigers produced a comfortable win over the Capitals to split their road-trip to the nation’s capital.

In the NBL, Brisbane had the bye.

NBL Ladder

Top Six:                                              Bottom Eight:

Brisbane            3 and 0                       North Melb.            2 and 2

Illawarra            3 and 0                        Hobart                  2 and 3

Eastside Melb.    3 and 1                       Newcastle               1 and 2

Canberra           3 and 1                        Sydney                  1 and 2

Perth                 2 and 1                        West Sydney          1 and 3

Adelaide             2 and 1                        Melbourne              1 and 3

                                                            Geelong                 1 and 3

                                                            Westside Melb.        1 and 4

WNBL Ladder

Top Four:                                             Bottom Seven:

Nunawading       3 and 0                       Coburg                      3 and 2

Brisbane            3 and 1                       Noarlunga                  2 and 2

North Adel.        3 and 1                       A.I.S.                         2 and 3

Bankstown         2 and 1                       West Adel.                 2 and 3

                                                           Canberra                   2 and 3

                                                           Bulleen                      0 and 4

                                                           Hobart                       0 and 2

Next week, we’ll be stopping off in May 1988 as the Soviets pull out of Afghanistan and the Federal Parliament moves into its grandiose new home. Is there reason to believe that the Boomers or Opals could win a medal in Seoul? Find out, in next week’s ‘Back in the Day’.

This is another in a regular series of articles that will take note of the historic events of the modern era of Australian basketball (1979-today). If you have memories to share, or topics that should be discussed, send an email to and put in the subject line ‘Back in the Day’.