|Thurl Bailey towers over everyone as he signs autographs.|
Thurl Bailey participated in a tri-stake fireside recently at the Emery High Auditorium. Seth Bott played the prelude music. Cindy Foote and Tony Oliverson were instrumental in putting together the program and inviting Bailey to the county.
Bailey said that he speaks at firesides about once a month. Bailey expressed appreciation for the audience that had driven to hear him. Bailey said with such a wide variety of ages in the audience he hoped he could say something to connect with everyone there in some way. "I love the gospel, I am not good at quoting the gospel, but I was baptized in 1995 and that was a great moment in my life."
Bailey said that he has played a lot of basketball in his day, but he's never seen anything like church basketball and he wondered who discovered it. He was completely unprepared for church ball when some friends encouraged him to come out and play with them. He said someone stole the basketball from someone and they threw them to the floor and no foul was called. Bailey said he retired from church ball after one game.
Bailey said he became interested in basketball when he was about 12-13 years old and he was watching a basketball game with his dad. Dr. J, (Julius Erving), became Bailey's hero as he watched him sprint the floor with his hair in a bush afro waving back and forth. "I knew that someday I wanted to be like Dr. J., so I learned everything about him. I asked my dad to teach me how to play basketball, so he nailed a garbage can to the wall. I was cut from the basketball team in seventh and eighth grades and I wondered how I was going to make it if I kept getting cut. The coach told me I was wasting his time and that I was not meant to be a basketball player. I tried out again as a 6'9" ninth grader. The old coach had left and a new coach was at the school. I walked down the hall to look at the paper to see if I had made the team and my name was the first one on the list, of course, the list was in alphabetical order."
The new coach took a special interest in Bailey and encouraged him to believe in himself. He came to school an hour early to work with him and spent an hour after practice helping Bailey to perfect his game. After high school, Bailey received 350 scholarship offers to colleges and he choose to go to North Carolina. After winning a championship at North Carolina, Bailey was drafted by the Utah Jazz. Bailey said when your name is called you go up and a representative from the team is there to give you a jersey with your name on it. This was a dream come true for Bailey and he wondered where Utah was. "It couldn't get any better than this," said Bailey.
Bailey talked about the first game that he played in for the Jazz, Frank Layden was the coach and he told Bailey to get in the game. The Jazz were playing the 76ers and the first player to come up to Bailey was Dr. J. and he shook his hand and congratulated him on a great college season and welcomed him to the NBA. It was Bailey's job to guard Dr. J. that evening and he boasted of holding Dr. J to only 47 points that game. Bailey encouraged the audience to dream and think big.
Bailey said as he played ball in Utah he learned a lot about the church. Everyone he met was really awesome and they all gave him a book of Mormon and that he probably had 65 of them in his library all signed with nice things written on the cover page.
Bailey talked about the search he had been on for the truth. He talked of going to church as a youth to the Southern Baptist church where there was a lot of loud singing and people standing and shouting. He was told they were doing that because they had the Holy Ghost. Most of the people were older that were up front shouting, so Bailey wondered if he had to wait until he was older before he could have the Holy Ghost. Bailey asked a lot of questions of members of the Jazz that were LDS and they answered questions for him about the blacks and the priesthood.
The Jazz traded Bailey to the Timberwolves after eight years. Bailey talked about his failed marriage. Bailey returned to Salt Lake to host a basketball camp and was talking to coaches for the camp when he found Cindy. He hired her to coach the kids and one day at camp she came up to him bouncing a basketball and said, "I think I can take you. If I score on you, you have to raise my salary, if I don't score I'll buy you dinner."
Bailey said, "Well, she didn't score so she owed me dinner and this is when I found out she lived in Richfield. So I drove and drove and thought I'd missed the exit when I finally came to Richfield. I found the house and knocked on the door and it opens and shuts again. I thought there was some mistake so I knocked again and then Cindy comes around the house and she had been crying, she tells me I have to leave and she would call me later to explain. She said it was because I was black and not a member. Well, I knew that one of those things was never going to change. I told her if she could just get me in the door, if they could just get to know me, that I'm a pretty good guy."
Cindy went on to get a job in Minnesota and had her own apartment as she and Bailey dated for three years, then decided to get married. Her parents didn't talk to her for the three years she was in Minnesota, everytime she tried to call they would hang up on her.
Bailey talked of his experiences in playing ball in Greece where he said he had to drive the cars from the back seat because he was so tall. Bailey didn't want to go to a foreign country again to play ball, but he felt like he should go and play in Italy and help out a team that had continually been in last place.
Bailey came into contact with the LDS missionaries while in Italy. He invited them over to his apartment and he cooked for them. They asked if they could teach him the discussions and he said they could. They asked him about baptism and he told them he wasn't ready. They asked if Bailey had any questions, so he asked them about the blacks and the priesthood. The next time they came back they had the mission president with them. "Jay Clegg was a little guy, but he was a giant of a man and he was always smiling. He told me that things work on Heavenly Father's time table and not ours and that when it was time for the blacks to have the priesthood it came about through revelation. There is a time and place for everything. People are not perfect, but the gospel is perfect. It's the most perfect thing you will ever find."
Bailey called his wife in Salt Lake and he was crying; she said you're going to be baptized aren't you Thurl, and he said, yes. They cried together over the phone and Thurl related that it turned out to be quite an expensive cry.
Bailey was baptized by his father-in-law in Milan, Italy on Dec. 31, 1995. He prayed the baptismal font was big enough. He said he had learned a lot from his wife about forgiveness and looking within to see who a person really is and not being concerned with color. Bailey said he found home in the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
Bailey said that the team in Italy he played on went from last place to the Championship that year. Bailey said he had met the Prophet and that he was just a little guy, but Bailey was intimidated. But, I thank God for having that opportunity to stand in front of a Prophet. We will be tested every day, but we must stay strong and use the gospel in every phase of your life. It's not boring.
Bailey described an experience with his son who called him out of an important meeting to come home because he had something important to tell him.
So Bailey went home and his 4 year old son told him that he had learned how to spell. Bailey said, Well, that's cool what can you spell? Bailey's son replied DVD.
Bailey finished the evening by singing a few songs to the audience and then signing autographs.