Almanac Book Review: The craziness that is “Not Bad Thanks”





NBT (Not Bad Thanks) was the F Troop of F grade. Rude, crude and unattractive was the way they played the game. The blind leading the blind.” – Graeme Willingham



In 1980, a bunch of mates searched for a way to stay connected as they grew older. Basketball won the consensus vote despite only two players on the team having learned the game – the only two who could dribble the ball from one end of the court to the other. The rest of the squad were discombobulated, using football positions – wing, back pocket, half-forward flank – to define court placements.


Willingham’s tongue-in-cheek book Not Bad Thanks documents the history of an amateur sporting club, which jokingly aspired to become globalised, which comes across cringey at times. Like the time NBT’s captain called Red Symons’ ABC breakfast program, complaining that Symons’ use of the phrase “not bad thanks” in response to caller’s greetings could amount to plagiarism, or was at least taking the club’s name in vain.


The men’s rough and often clueless approach to basketball is equally hilarious as it is ineffective. NBT veteran Lord Albert once lifted an opponent in an under-the-crutch fireman’s tackle and dropped him to the floor. Or how about RP, who was renowned for sneaking behind an opponent with the ball and tackling him, as in Aussie Rules, wrapping his arms around the player. Opponents would aggressively shove him away, yelling, “we’re not playing footy here mate, you dickhead!” To which would plead innocently to the referee, “but I never even touched him!” Some even performed fundamental skills like jump shooting in an unorthodox manner, by launching the ball towards the basket in an under-armed heave referred to as a “granny” or “bucket” shot, leaving opponents and referees flummoxed.


Given the team’s ugly start, turning things around and creating a winning culture seemed infeasible, especially once NBT banned all practice sessions after their star player rolled his ankle practicing.


Who would have thought a basketball club like this could survive, let alone climb the ranks to A grade competition across more than four eventful decades?


However, the essence of the NBT basketball club, as captured by author Graeme Willingham, isn’t about wins and losses. It’s about mateship and going above and beyond for the club, any successes that arise along the way are merely a bonus.


“The game itself was probably the least important aspect of what we were doing, now I come to think about it. It was more about all the other stuff, like The Clubrooms, [the team dinners], the votes, the Patrons’ bullshit, the newsletters, photos, letters, songs, the long pissy lunches,” Graeme writes.


NBT’s end of season event, the Golden Elbow, illustrates the spirit of the club. A laidback, family-friendly culture, loaded with playful banter, anecdotal Aussie nicknames and storytelling over a beer (or ten). Structured like Best and Fairest award ceremonies, the Golden Elbow is a creation of NBT – consistent with the club’s aspiration for nonconformity – where voting is based on extra effort. The player who plays above oneself the most throughout the season is crowned. True to the nature of NBT, the GE presentation isn’t the night’s highlight, but family and friends enjoying each other’s company and sipping back on some draught beers and the occasional shot of Green Chartreuse (or as NBT refer to it, “Green Death”) to keep the party going.


GE events are held all over Melbourne as the group trial exotic restaurants, hotels and reserves. Sometimes team members host the exclusive event. One year the middle-aged group celebrated on the lawns of the Holden Street Child Care Centre in North Fitzroy, enjoying a kick-to-kick of the footy with their kids.


Another proud NBT tradition is the weekly visit to their clubrooms, where players are expected to attend prior or post-game meetings. The clubrooms are, of course, the local pub closest to the basketball stadium where players plan strategies, celebrate or vent about the game’s result while knocking back a couple of “electrolyte-replacing draught beers”. Nobody would be surprised to learn that an NBT black-tie affair at Studley Park Receptions, degenerated into a pancake-throwing contest, where desserts made handsome lethal and lethal frisbees. The average age of the players was 32, but they’re children at heart.


Another instance of the team acting larger than life takes place in an airport, where a player seated at a table is ordered to vacate by guards working for the President of South Africa. The player declines claiming his six Golden Elbow trophies highlight his importance, comparable to the President’s Nobel Peace Prize.


While the teams on-court progression follows a linear narrative, the accompanying stories are scattered, and there’s a danger they become a little tedious at times – like hearing an unknown group of friends reminiscing. But this observation wouldn’t bother them at all. That’s the point! They are their stories. Tales of on-court confrontation, run-ins with legends like Magic Johnson, and a match-up against the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters trickle throughout the book, painting NBT’s individual player personalities along the way.


Willingham’s playful documentation of the origin and history of NBT exceeds black-and-white statistical analysis and results like most clubs. Instead, emphasising a sporting clubs’ role in maintaining and strengthening friendships – the lifeblood of grassroots sport.


NBT begin to follow their ‘club before individual’ philosophy in everyday life, supporting their fellow troops when called upon – whether it’s applauding a teammates art exhibition, encouraging friends to come out of their shells, or convincing officials to fulfil a disabled mans wish to debut for the mighty NBT – it’s a brotherhood.


This book is light, charming and surprisingly relatable. Any local sportsman will find themselves smirking through anecdotes and references they’ve likely experienced at some point, like a tense player screaming at the scorer in the final moments of a close game, “turn the fucking clock on!” Only to receive no punishment, win the game and sheepishly laugh it off post-game with the rest of the boys.


Every local basketball stadium has their own expression of the NBT squad. An assembly of middle-aged men who have undoubtedly played together for 15-plus years. They know each other’s game like the back of their hand, manoeuvring wins against younger, more athletic competition through their experience. However, NBT’s commitment to the club and one another set themselves aside from the rest. Like a cult, the team are devout to comical traditions and rules, forcing the men to become near inseparable.


NBT will leave you envious of their tight-knit circle as they continue to grow old together but stay as young as they were more than forty years ago.



Read more about Not Bad Thanks including extracts HERE.


Copies of the book are available by contacting us here at the Almanac in the first instance and we will pass your details on to Graeme. [email protected]


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Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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  1. Mark, I read extracts when they appeared on the Almanac site and thought that this could turn into a good book – it sounds like it has. It all seems summed up when you wrote, ‘Willingham’s playful documentation of the origin and history of NBT exceeds black-and-white statistical analysis and results like most clubs. Instead, emphasising a sporting clubs’ role in maintaining and strengthening friendships – the lifeblood of grassroots sport.’ Yes!

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