Thurl Bailey autographs his picture for Firth High School students Adrian Campos (left) and Justin Walker. Bailey was a professional basketball player from 1983 through 1999. He played for the Utah Jazz and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
By LESLIE MIELKE
Â FIRTH â Former NBA basketball player Thurl Bailey spoke to the student bodies of Firth High School, Firth Middle School and A. W. Johnson Elementary in Firth Monday morning.
âWhen I was 13 years old, I was six feet five inches tall and wore size 15 shoes,â Bailey said. âOne day, as I was watching a basketball game on television with my dad, I saw this guy with an âAfro out to hereâ [Bailey gestured with his hands, putting them about the width of his shoulders] who could angle a basketball off the rim and into the hoop.â
The player was Dr. J [Julius Erving] of the Philadelphia 76ers.
âThat ignited my pilot light for the game of basketball,â Bailey said.
âThe first lesson my dad taught me about basketball was preparation,â he said. âThere are things you can do to prepare for your opponent.
âYou need to be prepared to catch [the ball] and go up,â Bailey said. âYou need to be prepared to cut and move and follow instructions.â
Bailey didnât make his seventh and eighth grade basketball teams.
Bailey said, âThe basketball coach took me aside and said, âI need someone to rely on to help win a championship this year; I havenât time to teach you basketball.ââ
In the ninth grade, there was a new coach; a new opportunity.
âFailure is painful,â Bailey said. âDo you love [your passion] enough to try it again?
âWe can convince ourselves weâre not good enough but I had to know,â he said. âThe new coach saw potential in me.
âWhat changed my life is when the coach said, âIf you want to be a great player, are you willing to work at it? I see potential in you.ââ
To the Firth students, Bailey asked, âAre you willing to prepare, to work hard, to stay focused and be dedicated?
âThere will be people who will hold you back,â Bailey said. âYou need to hang out with people who support you.
âStay focused,â he said.
Basketball helped Bailey get an education. He attended North Carolina State. In his senior year, North Carolina State won the national championship. In 1983, the Utah Jazz had the seventh pick in the first round in the pro draft and chose Bailey.
âMy first game in the pros, someone tapped me on the shoulder to congratulate me on the national title and make the pros. It was Dr. J. I was on the same court as the man I idolized all those years before,â he said.
Bailey concluded his remarks, telling students about his friend, Len Bias. Bias had been drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1986 and was to report to the Celtics the next day.
Some of Lenâs friends invited him to a congratulatory party, Bailey said. After taking cocaine, Len grabbed his chest as he fell to the ground.
âThere were at least four phones in the room where Len died; no one called 911,â he said.
âNo one knows whether that was the first time Len had taken cocaine but everyone agrees, it was his last,â Bailey said.
There are some decisions you make, you can do over, Bailey said. There are some things you may be curious about that there is no return.
About each individualâs dreams, Bailey said, âGo out and get it; donât take second best.â
Comments about Baileyâs presentation ranged from awesome to fabulous.
Deja Bingham said what she learned from Bailey presentation was, âFollow your heart; follow your dreams. It was nothing short of inspiring.â
âJust keep trying,â Jake Baxter said. âIf you get pushed back, keep trying it until you think youâve got it.â
âHe was very tall and very inspiring,â said Joel Campos.
Chace Brewington said, âNo matter what people say about you, prove people wrong.â
âHeâs awesome,â said Jacob Fielding. âItâs cool having a NBA player in our school. Heâs a great speaker.
âYou can do anything if you put your mind to it and work hard enough,â Jacob said.
âIf you fail, keep trying,â Ian Yount said. âNever give up on your dreams; anything is possible.â