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 – 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.
“When I was 13 years old, I was six feet five inches tall and wore size 15 shoes,” Bailey said. “One day, as I was watching a basketball game on television with my dad, I saw this guy with an “Afro out to here” [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.”
The player was Dr. J [Julius Erving] of the Philadelphia 76ers.
“That ignited my pilot light for the game of basketball,” Bailey said.
“The first lesson my dad taught me about basketball was preparation,” he said. “There are things you can do to prepare for your opponent.
“You need to be prepared to catch [the ball] and go up,” Bailey said. “You need to be prepared to cut and move and follow instructions.”
Bailey didn’t make his seventh and eighth grade basketball teams.
Bailey said, “The basketball coach took me aside and said, ‘I need someone to rely on to help win a championship this year; I haven’t time to teach you basketball.’”
In the ninth grade, there was a new coach; a new opportunity.
“Failure is painful,” Bailey said. “Do you love [your passion] enough to try it again?
“We can convince ourselves we’re not good enough but I had to know,” he said. “The new coach saw potential in me.
“What changed my life is when the coach said, ‘If you want to be a great player, are you willing to work at it? I see potential in you.’”
To the Firth students, Bailey asked, “Are you willing to prepare, to work hard, to stay focused and be dedicated?
“There will be people who will hold you back,” Bailey said. “You need to hang out with people who support you.
“Stay focused,” 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.
“My 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,” 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’s friends invited him to a congratulatory party, Bailey said. After taking cocaine, Len grabbed his chest as he fell to the ground.
“There were at least four phones in the room where Len died; no one called 911,” he said.
“No one knows whether that was the first time Len had taken cocaine but everyone agrees, it was his last,” 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’s dreams, Bailey said, “Go out and get it; don’t take second best.”
Comments about Bailey’s presentation ranged from awesome to fabulous.
Deja Bingham said what she learned from Bailey presentation was, “Follow your heart; follow your dreams. It was nothing short of inspiring.”
“Just keep trying,” Jake Baxter said. “If you get pushed back, keep trying it until you think you’ve got it.”
“He was very tall and very inspiring,” said Joel Campos.
Chace Brewington said, “No matter what people say about you, prove people wrong.”
“He’s awesome,” said Jacob Fielding. “It’s cool having a NBA player in our school. He’s a great speaker.
“You can do anything if you put your mind to it and work hard enough,” Jacob said.
“If you fail, keep trying,” Ian Yount said. “Never give up on your dreams; anything is possible.”