Thurl Bailey Q + A
The former Jazz big man talks about his charitable work
by David Cassilo / @dcassilo
Thurl Bailey burst onto the national scene in 1983 when his North Carolina State team shocked the world by beating Houston to win the national title. Afterwards, Bailey enjoyed a successful NBA career, the majority of which was spent in Utah. In 12 seasons, Bailey averaged 12.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg and 1.2 bpg.
Since hanging it up, Bailey has stayed active in a numbers of ways. Jazz fans still get the chance to see him often as a broadcast analyst for the team. However, his biggest impact is coming away from basketball, where he is involved with the charity TIFIE Humanitarian.
Bailey recently returned from the Democratic Republic of the Congo where, through basketball, he taught children some of the life lessons he has learned. Bailey has also been to China and Mexico this past summer and regularly speaks at high schools.
SLAM caught up with Bailey to talk about all of the work he is doing with children, as well as his thoughts on Al Jefferson and the upcoming season for the Jazz.
SLAM: How was your time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
Thurl Bailey: It was fantastic. It was liberating. Just to go over there, it was very rewarding.
SLAM: Talk a little about the organization you’ve become involved with.
TB: TIFIE has come out with a very sustainable model. It has been great to be able to support them. It is taking something as universal as sports to affect positive change in the lives of children.
SLAM: How did playing in the NBA help you impact the lives of others?
TB: I obviously had to have people believe in me. You need people to believe in you. Playing 17 years in the NBA is not a bad platform to get involved. Hard work got me to that level. Not all kids can play in the NBA. Even if basketball hadn’t worked out, I feel like I could work to succeed in something.
SLAM: What other programs are you involved in?
TB: My foundation focuses on the “Arena Man” project. Basically it came from the “Man in the Arena” speech that Theodore Roosevelt gave years ago about a man who shows up everyday because he has to. I focus on fathers and the role in their family.
SLAM: You went to North Carolina State and won a title there. How did Coach Jim Valvano impact you as a person?
TB: Coach Valvano was an amazing man, mentor and visionary. He always knew that we would be the position to win a title at some point. The mind is a very powerful thing. You can move mountains. That experience is bigger than basketball and college. It lasts beyond cutting down the nets.
SLAM: Then in the NBA you found yourself together with another great coach in Jerry Sloan. What has his influence been?
TB: I still have a strong relationship with Jerry today. It’s amazing when you look at your life, when your parents pass you off to other leaders like coaches. Sloan is the ultimate teacher. He’s a very loyal guy, no nonsense and tells it like it is. He has no luxury of wasting time. There are things he teaches in basketball that you can pass on when your career is over.
SLAM: What do you think about the Jazz replacing Carlos Boozer with Al Jefferson?
TB: I don’t think there was any question that Boozer was probably not going to be around. When it finally happened and we lost other guys, people got a little nervous. Then we drafted Gordon Hayward and people were saying, “Don’t we need a big man?” But [Jazz general manager] Kevin O’Connor is the master of putting pieces together. Jefferson was a great move for the team. He can give you 20-and-10, and now he’s playing with the league’s best point guard.
SLAM: How do you see Utah doing this season?
TB: I picked the Jazz to win the division. Jefferson wants to get back to the playoffs, and the pieces are there. There is a Hall of Fame coach and great staff, so the system is set up. But the Lakers are still the ones to beat.