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
¬†FIRTH ‚Äď 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.
‚ÄúWhen I was 13 years old, I was six feet five inches tall and wore size 15 shoes,‚ÄĚ Bailey said. ‚ÄúOne day, as I was watching a basketball game on television with my dad, I saw this guy with an ‚ÄúAfro out to here‚ÄĚ [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.‚ÄĚ
The player was Dr. J [Julius Erving] of the Philadelphia 76ers.
‚ÄúThat ignited my pilot light for the game of basketball,‚ÄĚ Bailey said.
‚ÄúThe first lesson my dad taught me about basketball was preparation,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúThere are things you can do to prepare for your opponent.
‚ÄúYou need to be prepared to catch [the ball] and go up,‚ÄĚ Bailey said. ‚ÄúYou need to be prepared to cut and move and follow instructions.‚ÄĚ
Bailey didn‚Äôt make his seventh and eighth grade basketball teams.
Bailey said, ‚ÄúThe basketball coach took me aside and said, ‚ÄėI need someone to rely on to help win a championship this year; I haven‚Äôt time to teach you basketball.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
In the ninth grade, there was a new coach; a new opportunity.
‚ÄúFailure is painful,‚ÄĚ Bailey said. ‚ÄúDo you love [your passion] enough to try it again?
‚ÄúWe can convince ourselves we‚Äôre not good enough but I had to know,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúThe new coach saw potential in me.
‚ÄúWhat changed my life is when the coach said, ‚ÄėIf you want to be a great player, are you willing to work at it? I see potential in you.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
To the Firth students, Bailey asked, ‚ÄúAre you willing to prepare, to work hard, to stay focused and be dedicated?
‚ÄúThere will be people who will hold you back,‚ÄĚ Bailey said. ‚ÄúYou need to hang out with people who support you.
‚ÄúStay focused,‚ÄĚ 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.
‚ÄúMy 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,‚ÄĚ 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 Len‚Äôs friends invited him to a congratulatory party, Bailey said. After taking cocaine, Len grabbed his chest as he fell to the ground.
‚ÄúThere were at least four phones in the room where Len died; no one called 911,‚ÄĚ he said.
‚ÄúNo one knows whether that was the first time Len had taken cocaine but everyone agrees, it was his last,‚ÄĚ 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 individual‚Äôs dreams, Bailey said, ‚ÄúGo out and get it; don‚Äôt take second best.‚ÄĚ
Comments about Bailey‚Äôs presentation ranged from awesome to fabulous.
Deja Bingham said what she learned from Bailey presentation was, ‚ÄúFollow your heart; follow your dreams. It was nothing short of inspiring.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúJust keep trying,‚ÄĚ Jake Baxter said. ‚ÄúIf you get pushed back, keep trying it until you think you‚Äôve got it.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúHe was very tall and very inspiring,‚ÄĚ said Joel Campos.
Chace Brewington said, ‚ÄúNo matter what people say about you, prove people wrong.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs awesome,‚ÄĚ said Jacob Fielding. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs cool having a NBA player in our school. He‚Äôs a great speaker.
‚ÄúYou can do anything if you put your mind to it and work hard enough,‚ÄĚ Jacob said.
‚ÄúIf you fail, keep trying,‚ÄĚ Ian Yount said. ‚ÄúNever give up on your dreams; anything is possible.‚ÄĚ