Thurl Bailey: The Impact of Seeing Potential
When someone sees our potential it can make all the difference in what we become. But what has that looked like in the life of former NBA player Thurl Bailey? It meant his mother believing that she was not raising average kids, and therefore Cs were not acceptable. It meant not making the middle school basketball team again and again until a coach finally offered to put in some extra work with the 6'10" 9th grader. And it meant overcoming obstacles in marrying his wife when the odds were against them. But perhaps most important, it has looked like Heavenly Father knowing Thurl's potential as a disciple of Jesus Christ. On this week's episode, we talk with Thurl about potential in all its forms and what we can learn from it.
God also has a way of making things really right.
2:33- Taking Full Advantage of Education
6:45- “I Have a Dream”
8:30- Religion as a Child
12:06- Dr. J
22:15- Influence of a Coach Who Cared
25:47- Cultural Implications of Coming to Utah
30:24- Conquering the Odds
38:34- Asking the Right Person
45:17- 25 Years Later
48:43- What Does It Mean To Be All In the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Fireside with Thurl and Sindi Bailey
Morgan Jones 0:00
The All In book is in stores now, and if this podcast has meant anything to you over the past two and a half years, I would ask that you give this book a chance. I hope that it will help you not only remember the things we've learned together on this podcast, but it is also my hope that as you read about my personal exploration of what it means to be all in, that it will cause you to consider your own all in answer. There's even a spot to write it down at the end of the book. So join us in exploring and answering the question, what does it mean to you, to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Thurl Bailey didn't come to Utah looking for religion–he came because he was drafted by the Utah Jazz as the seventh pick in the 1983 NBA Draft. He was just happy to play anywhere, but it was there that he was first introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thurl Bailey was a member of NC State's 1983 national championship team, played 16 years of professional basketball, including 12 in the NBA, and is now a public speaker, a broadcast analyst for the Utah Jazz, and a singer songwriter. He also hosts a podcast for KSL called "Thurl Talk."
This is All In, LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones, and I am so thrilled to have Thurl Bailey with me today. Thurl, welcome.
Thurl Bailey 1:32
Thank you. Thanks, Morgan.
Morgan Jones 1:33
Well, I have been looking forward to this. I am a huge sports fan–people that listen to this podcast probably know that–but I am like a junkie. So this is a big day for me, and I'm from North Carolina.
Thurl Bailey 1:45
What! You didn't tell me that. Wow, what part?
Morgan Jones 1:48
Yeah! Yeah. Well, I grew up right on the border of North Carolina and Virginia. But my parents live just outside of Raleigh now.
Thurl Bailey 1:54
Okay. So before we move on, I have to know, Wolfpack or Carolina Tar Heel?
Morgan Jones 2:01
Here's the thing Thurl . . .
Thurl Bailey 2:02
This might be a short interview.
Morgan Jones 2:03
This could be, you might walk out on me.
Thurl Bailey 2:05
Oh my gosh.
Morgan Jones 2:06
Both my parents went to UNC.
Thurl Bailey 2:08
Okay . . .
Morgan Jones 2:08
But! I will say this–
Thurl Bailey 2:10
I like the "but"
Morgan Jones 2:10
We always—as long as they're not playing Carolina—we root for the Wolfpack.
Thurl Bailey 2:15
Okay, all right. All right. All right. I can live with that.
Morgan Jones 2:19
All right, perfect. And we're big Thurl fans!
Thurl Bailey 2:21
But we both hate Duke.
Morgan Jones 2:20
We both hate Duke. Yes. With a burning passion
Thurl Bailey 2:23
I'm good with that.
Morgan Jones 2:24
Okay, great. Well, I–like I said, so excited about this. But I want to start, and I found this interesting as I was prepping for this interview, you almost didn't go to NC State, you almost went to Maryland. So let's start with your growing up in the suburbs of Maryland, and you grew up in a home of parents that really valued education and pushed you to succeed.
Thurl Bailey 2:50
I was fortunate because most of my friends growing up in that area didn't–only had one parent, or sometimes neither parent in the household with them, it really took a village to raise them.
It may have been a grandmother, an aunt or uncle. And a lot of my friends didn't survive. They're, you know, going into adulthood just because they made some bad decisions. And so I was fortunate to have both parents and education being instilled early.
My mom, my mom used to hammer it home that she never wanted to see a "C" or below on our report cards. And you know, as a kid, you're thinking, if I get a "C," I'm passing, right?
Morgan Jones 3:32
Thurl Bailey 3:32
That's not failing. But she looked at it differently. She said, "You know, I don't raise average kids. And a "C" is average." So let me put it like she put it, "I better not ever see a ‘C’ or below on your report card,” because she said, “You know, if you guys are going to be–I want you to be different. A lot of kids in this neighborhood, no one's coming out of this neighborhood to make anything of themselves, but I want you guys to be different, and the way that's going to happen is a great education.”
And so at that time, we were being bused to white schools, and that's where the best education was. So she wanted us to take advantage of that. And she wanted us to be something and make something of ourselves. And so I was really fortunate to have the parents that I had.
Morgan Jones 4:17
It seems like it. I thought it was so interesting. One of the things that I listened to, you talked about becoming president of nine different clubs in junior high?
Thurl Bailey 4:27
Morgan Jones 4:29
That's ambitious, Thurl.
Thurl Bailey 4:30
You know, that's, that's how I was built, right? I mean, my parents really put that seed in us as kids, is don't be underachievers, don't be followers, don't sit in the back of the classroom. If you have a question, you raise your hand. You ask the right questions to the right people, and there's no reason you should fail. If you go to school every day, and you ask if you're struggling with something, you should be above average.
And so with that came extracurricular things. I wasn't an athlete at that time, not until late junior high school, so my extra energies went into music. I picked up the trombone, the tuba, I was–I loved singing, so I joined the chorus. And then the school offered a bunch of clubs.
So I joined a few clubs, but I didn't stop there. Because, you know, I was wired this way, to want to lead. And so I had this kind of personal thing that I did, where, when I joined these clubs, at some point during the meetings of those clubs, a president was elected, and a vice president. And, and I remember putting my name in–actually, I campaigned. You know I went, and I was always a people person, so I would go to each person, as soon as we established the club and our meeting time, I would say, “You know, sooner or later, we're going to vote for president, I want you to vote for me.”
So I was in politics early on in life. So I was elected president of like, nine clubs in junior high school. And the funny thing is one club that they only needed two people. It was the flag club. And all we did was we got to school early, and we raised the flag, went to the office and raised the flag, and we got out of class early at the end of the day to lower the flag. And there were just two people in this club. And I went to the guy who was in the club with me, I said, "Welcome to the flag club, you’re vice president, and I'm president." So that was a pretty, pretty quick election. But that's really how I was wired and how–and what my parents really instilled in us to be that front runner, if you will.
Morgan Jones 6:44
Right. Well, before we steer away–steer the conversation away from your parents, I want to touch on one thing that stood out to me. Your parents were there in person when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, is that right?
Thurl Bailey 6:59
That is right. Every time I see those pictures on TV, even now I . . . they come to my mind. Because I know they're out there somewhere, right. There's a lot of people out there, but I know that they were out there, and they, when they were done, they came home and they sat us down as kids and talked to us about that moment–not just that moment, but what was going on in our world at that time. And that's, that's something I'm really grateful for as well, is they were parents that taught us, right. Taught us that there were so many things that were relevant that were going on.
A lot of adults, especially in Black America at that time during the Civil Rights Movement, but there were a lot of families who wouldn't really expose their children to that because a lot of it was brutal, and so my parents were really good in that way to sit us down and talk to us about the news of the day or the news of the year, what was going on in the world.
Morgan Jones 8:02
So, so impressive, and I think it's clear that just listening to you talk, I actually told Erika as we were preparing to come in here, I said, "I'm kind of intimidated because Thurl is so well spoken in everything that I listen to or watched." You never say, "um," or any filler words, you're so, so impressive. And so I am a little bit intimidated, but we'll see how this goes. Was your family religious growing up, Thurl?
Thurl Bailey 8:33
They were. They were in their own sense, right? We were born into a Baptist family, and my parents, meanwhile, weren't religious, for lack of a better word–church goers. But they religiously made sure we went to Sunday school. And I learned a lot about religion, in that sense, growing up. And a ton about–I mean, I was excited to learn about this man they called Jesus Christ when I was younger, right?
I would sit in the church, when my parents did go to church, we would sit with them like in the back of the, in the back pew, and I would look, the preacher would be preaching the sermon and the music, the music was beautiful and just harmonious and, but my eyes will always go to the first couple of rows, because these people would be acting a little bit differently than most.
They would be standing up and screaming and hollering and it was different for a young person to see that and I would–I was very inquisitive, I would ask my parents what they were doing and my parents would say, "Well, they're experiencing the Holy Ghost." and I always sat there wanting to feel what they were feeling. And I came to the conclusion, just based on what I was observing, that I would have to wait until I was their age to do it, because it was really usually the older members of the church.
And so I think with me, that's when the spiritual journey started as a kid, the Baptist foundation that I had. And interestingly enough, when we would visit our relatives in North Carolina, and we'd go to, we try to go to a church, maybe a different church, we couldn't get in. And so, as a kid, I'm observing this . . . this moment where we wanted to go in and worship Christ, and it was a white Baptist Church, that's what they called it, I mean I just figured all Baptist churches were Baptist churches, but at that time, you know, across the Mason Dixon line, it was different.
And so I would be a part of witnessing that rejection. And would just always question, you know, why would God not allow these people to, you know, to invite us in. So I learned a lot growing up about church and religion and, and a spiritual foundation. And that's where it started, really. We had a great church in Maryland that we went to, and I just, I wouldn't miss Sunday school. I wouldn't miss it for anything. My parents gave us some change to put in the, you know, put in the plate as they pass it in church. But that foundation, I think, really set me on this spiritual journey, sometimes unconsciously, you know, through college, and I was trying to decide. I knew I believed in God and Jesus Christ, but always, I always figured there was something more, but that part of my life was really a great foundation for me to start that journey.
Morgan Jones 12:05
Yeah. Well, we're going to come back to your religious journey later, for a second though, let's kind of take a detour, your basketball story begins–
Thurl Bailey 12:16
Oh yeah, that.
Morgan Jones 12:17
When you were in the seventh grade, you were 6’4”. Is that right?
Thurl Bailey 12:22
I was. That was unusual.
Morgan Jones 12:24
And you did not make the basketball team.
Thurl Bailey 12:27
No, unfortunately, I wasn't very good. But as a precursor to that, I didn't even find basketball until I was, I don't know, 12 years old, 11-12 years old. I was into music, but I was walking through my living room, my dad was sitting on my mom's couch watching a basketball game. And I loved hanging out with my dad. So I sat down next to him and was trying to, you know, to watch the game and understand why he loved it so much.
And I didn't know anything that was going on. I even had to ask him, you know, how many points do they get when that ball goes through that ring? And my dad was so good, because he–even though I was tall, he never pushed me into sports or doing something he thought that I should be doing. So he answered my questions with patience.
And probably five minutes into the game, I stopped asking him questions because I was so transfixed on one player in the game. I didn't know who he was. He had some really cool short shorts on, and he had a huge Afro. And he was doing some incredible things. He would leap in the air like I had never seen a human being do before and he would be so creative as to how he was scoring baskets. And I said, "Dad, that guy's pretty good. Huh?"
He said, "Son," and my dad looked at me, I remember him looking at me with a kind of a frown as if I should know who that guy was. And he said, "That's one of the greatest athletes in the world." He didn't say greatest basketball player, he said greatest athlete. I said, "Dad, well, who is he? He looks like he's the best one on the court." He said, "Son, that's Dr. J." And I immediately asked my dad, I said, "Dad, doctors can play professional basketball?" Because I didn't know. You know, he said, "Dr. J," I'm like, okay, he must be a doctor that's a pro athlete.
He said, "No, son when you're that good they give you a nickname." And he told me his name was Julius Erving and they call him the doctor. And so that moment with my dad and watching that game and watching this guy named Dr. J play started it all out for me. I mean I remember how I felt when I was watching, my heart was pumping, you know, my pulse was faster and I had this excitement about this man that I saw who I had never seen anyone do what he was doing.
And so it kind of gave me this initiative, I decided, at the end of the day I was going to be him. I didn't know how I was going to do it, but I was that guy, right, that same guy who joined those eight, nine clubs. I was going to be Dr.–I wasn't gonna be like him, I was going to be Dr. J. That's the goal I set in mind.
I didn't really tell anybody, but soon after, I asked my dad to teach me how to play and so we didn't have a portable hoop, so he cut the top off a garbage can about four inches deep. And nailed it to the house pulled up some weeds, I helped him throw some sand down there. And, and he found an old–deflated almost–basketball, and he began to show me a few things.
And he then he built me a catalogue of all things Dr. J. Newspaper clippings, magazine articles, whatever you could find that that talked about Dr. J, I wanted to get to know this guy. And I still didn't let out my internal secret that I was going to be him. But I knew if I was going to try to be him, I had to follow his path, and I had to learn about the things that he did to be successful.
So I had to try out for a team in junior high school, seventh grade, 6'5”. I walked in the door, and soon as I opened the door I had a big smile on my face. Because I knew I wasn't very good. I was just starting out. But not one of the 50 players that were trying out for the team came past my waist, right? So if you were me, and you walk into a gym to try out for a team and you know the rim is 10 feet from the floor, who has the advantage? And you know, in my eyes, I did. So I thought that–
Morgan Jones 16:49
Feeling pretty confident.
Thurl Bailey 16:50
Oh, overconfident, you know, it seemed. And then the coach puts us through these drills. And there were some of those things my dad hadn't even had a chance to get to, like the one where you hit the ball and it came back. Right, and you kept hitting it,
Morgan Jones 17:05
Also known as a dribble.
Thurl Bailey 17:07
That's right, I had no idea. And so it was a tough two hour try-out for me. But I came back the next day and I was excited to see my name on a list taped to the coach's door. But it didn't happen. My name wasn't there. And Morgan, that was the first time that in my young life I've ever felt failure. Especially when I was–when I first looked at that piece of paper and didn't see my name, and I looked around me and all these little guys were giving each other–I say low fives–because they made it, right? And so that really was an insult to injury. But I got over it. You know, I cried for a while. But I knew that I would have another opportunity the next year in eighth grade.
And yeah, next year rolled around, I was always in my yard during the summer, pretending I was Dr. J working on my game, working on his moves. I tried out in the eighth grade. And I went looked at that piece of paper again and no name again, I got cut in the eighth grade as well, at 6'7". And this year was different though, because I failed the second time in the same thing, something I was really passionate about.
And so you have a different thought process as to how you're going to approach it. First time you fail, okay, there's another opportunity, you'll go work on your game. Second time you start questioning yourself, right. So as I was walking away from being cut, the second time the coach came out of his office and he called my name, he walked over to me and he crossed his arms. And he looked up at me and he said, "Son, you weren't meant to play this game." And he said, "You're wasting my time. I don't have time to teach you how to play basketball. I'm looking for guys who can help me win a championship this year."
So he, you know, he knew what he wanted. I wasn't very good. And so if I was going to be Dr. J, I decided it was going to be in the confines of my own yard. That's how I was–maybe that was my path and I'd have to settle for that. So I still, I was still in my yard still preparing and went back for my last year because he told me not to come out for the team my last year because I'd be wasting my time and his.
But I found out he got a new job at another school. And they were hiring a new coach. So I had to decide first of all, at 6'9" in the ninth grade, whether I was going to go back and try again after those two defeats or failures. And I decided to show up, and that's when my luck kind of changed. That was a different coach. I still wasn't very good, but I made the team that year.
But making the team wasn't what changed my life. It was what happened after I made it because that coach brought me into his office and, Coach Cole, he brought me into his office and he said, "Son, if you really want to be a good player, you have a lot of work to do. A lot." He said, "But if you're willing to commit, if you want to make that commitment, I'll come in one hour before the team practices, and then after we practice as a team, I'll stay one hour after."
So here's a guy who barely knew me, he kept me on his team. If I wasn't the worst player, I was probably the second worst. And I wondered why he would give up that much time for me. And he told me, he looked me in my eyes, he said, "I see potential in you. I see potential in you that you don't even see in yourself. And I think if you want to commit and you work hard, this is what you can be, and I can help you do that."
So that was really what changed my life. I didn't tell him I wanted to be Dr. J, I still had that in my mind, and this opportunity came so I was prepared for it because I was still in my yard, even after I got cut a couple of times, hoping for maybe another chance at some point and it came and I was ready for it.
So that right there really ignited my passion for wanting to be successful. And I guess the full circle story is that I got a scholarship from–I call it the tool of basketball–paid for my education. And then the Jazz drafted me, and one of my first games in the NBA I walk out on the court, I'm a scared young rookie and I go in the game and a guy reaches his hand out shakes mine and says, "Congratulations on a great college season, welcome to the NBA." That was Dr. J. My idol. The same Dr. J I watched on TV now I'm–I knew I couldn't be him and I'm standing right next to the guy who gave me the passion to want to be him and play at the highest level.
Morgan Jones 21:54
That's amazing. I have chills. I want to come back to something that you said that your dad said when you saw Dr. J on TV and he said, "When you're really good they give you a nickname." At the time, you had no idea that–fast forward–everybody knows you, Thurl, as "Big T."
Thurl Bailey 22:12
Morgan Jones 22:13
You have a nickname, you're that good. So we're talking about your—the junior high coach. What do you think it is that makes such a difference when somebody sees potential? How does that have the ability to change somebody's life and the way that they see themselves?
Thurl Bailey 22:31
Well, first of all, it changed my life more than I knew then. And it really gave me a sense as I got old enough to understand what lenses we see through, right. We all do, right. We talk about not judging, well, we have to in a lot of ways. Not the kind of judgment that, you know, that causes issues, but we have to . . . when I train kids, I assess them. And that's kind of what that judging is, it's like an assessment.
But how do I see them? How do I see this kid who dribbles with two hands that wants to play in the NBA, right? Do I tell him that he doesn't have a shot and he needs to go find another coach? No, I mean, I see myself in him, right. And he may not be the height I was, but he has a passion for wanting to do something. So my lens right away is not going to be, "I don't have time for this person." My lens is, "This kid is enthusiastic about learning something," right. He may never be a pro player. But my lens says, he really wants it. He wants to learn so bad, right now is when I can do my part.
And so that's what it's really taught me. You know, I may not have become a professional basketball player, if not for that junior high school coach playing his part. I mean, even if I was not able to play pro basketball, or even college basketball, just the fact that he saw something I didn't see at the time, he saw something that he could teach me. And so that's really what–overall, even beyond the basketball has helped shaped me, is how I see other people.
How I see that it's not a burden on me, now that I know I have this platform. It's not a burden on me to take a few minutes or even a few seconds with a person. Excuse me, who wants my time. Sometimes it's inconvenient, but there's always a way. There's always a way to not make it about me, right. It's about them at the time. It's about how happy that might make them or what impact I might have on this kid in just the little time that I have him.
So I think that's really the big picture for me. It taught me a lot back then, as far as wanting to commit to something and work hard and reach certain goals and be successful and get out of that neighborhood and try to come back when I'm a successful person and help other kids in that neighborhood. So but, you know, I think when I got older, I saw a whole new meaning as to the lens that I see people through and how I, how I handle that, how I treat that.
Morgan Jones 25:46
Yeah. You mentioned, Thurl, that after playing for North Carolina State, you were drafted by the Utah Jazz. And you've said previously that your conversion to the Church really began when you came to Utah. What was your experience like coming to a state full of people that belonged to a religion that you didn't know a ton about? And how would you say that your time with the Jazz kind of jumped started your conversion?
Thurl Bailey 26:17
Well, to be honest with you, when I first came to Utah, it wasn't really about religion, it was about being around a ton of white people. I mean, culturally, I wasn't used to that.
Morgan Jones 26:32
Thurl Bailey 26:33
Right, I grew up in a predominantly all African American neighborhood and city for the most part. And culturally, there are things that we're all used to, and when we are taken out of that and we're put into a different culture, whether it's religious, or whether it's racial, or what have you, it's a shock to your system, right?
And I was excited about being in the NBA, no question about that. I didn't care where I went. But growing–being born in that civil rights era–and this is where I know that my parents teaching and educating us as kids really came in handy, because even though that culture part was a little shocking to me, it didn't take long.
I, when I landed, I knew I was caught–I was captured by the beauty of the place, first of all. And there was a part of me that–I tell this, it's kind of funny, but it's true–when I would drive to practice, right, I'd see this Black guy at the bus stop pretty much at the same time every day. I would drive and I waved to him, we made this connection, right, this cultural connection. And he waved back and after a while, I said, "So I'll see you tomorrow," right. Because it wasn't very often I'd get to see someone who looked like me.
But honestly, Morgan, I got really comfortable right away, because it was about the people to me. My mom and dad taught me that too. And some would think, well, you grew up in a very difficult time, you know, where the cops were siccing dogs on your dad and other Black people when they were fighting for civil rights. But my parents didn't come home with that. They didn't teach that to us. They taught us to be respectful to people and to love people regardless of where they were from.
And so as other kids grew up angry, and maybe some even revengeful, I grew up in a household that you know, we didn't really see color first, right? We saw what was here, what was in the heart. And I realized that when I got here, people were so nice. And then part of me was like, "Well, they're just being nice to me because I'm a Jazz player." And I realized that that wasn't the case.
And then I really started to understand the culture here. The LDS culture. The things I had heard about LDS people weren't very nice, growing up in D.C. I heard that they thought Black people had tails and just some really weird stuff. And so you have that part of what you've heard, stored in a place somewhere. And when I first got here and I met most of the people that I met were LDS, right? And they weren't afraid to let me know that, right. They were proud of it.
And it wasn't like I was trying to be converted off the plane by people. It was just their way, it was just a niceness. It was something that I really invited and I enjoyed when I got here. So that was really my first introduction to the LDS culture, it wasn't a huge transition for me to learn more. Matter of fact, when I go to these Jazz events, people would give me gifts and I'd go home and I'd unwrap them and I ended up with 50 or 60 Book of Mormon's in my, in my library. And you know, you have that many, you get curious and you, you grab one and you start reading it and try to understand the culture that you're in.
Morgan Jones 30:23
Yeah. And Thurl, you ended up marrying a member of the Church before ever joining. You have said that your wife went through absolute hell when she decided to marry you. Talk to me a little bit about that.
Thurl Bailey 30:41
I always get emotional when I talk about it. Well, first of all, my wife, Sindi, of almost 30 years now, her and I we uh . . . when you think about the odds, right? An African American Baptist athlete from Washington DC that side of the track meets an LDS, white basketball player from this side of the track, and how does that happen? How does that work? A lot of people, most people, didn't think it could. And particularly people that were close to us.
And you know, the shorter version is that we met through a basketball camp, Jazz basketball camp. We both were working the camp in the summer, and I ended up having my own camp, so she was playing basketball at what was then UVCC, which is now UVU. And so I went down to UVU to hire some of the athletes to come and work my branded basketball camp, and she was one of them. And she just stood out right away, she stood out as very confident. Very good player, very good teacher, a basketball and a people person.
And so I don't remember totally how it went down, I know that we had a challenge or something and I won the challenge. So my–her side of the bet was that she had to buy me dinner. And my side was that if she had won then I would have raised her salary for the camp. And so, long story short, I'm down in Richfield, Utah. And it's interesting when I say that, wherever I am, somebody knows somebody from there, right. And it's not that big, I'm like, how do you know, Richfield Utah? But that's where she was from and I drove down and didn't make it inside the house.
Her parents decided that I wasn't welcome in the house. And I think at the time, they thought that we were, you know, serious or dating and we were at a friendship level at that time. And so I went down and, and never made in the house.
So I took the drive all the way back, really without getting to see her that night, and to go to dinner. But her parents, you know, they were afraid because I was Black. That was a whole different ball of wax for the family and trouble and it was a double whammy because I wasn't LDS. But it was in that order, which was very troublesome for me.
I didn't really understand it, because that's not how I was raised, right? I just told you about all the civil rights stuff that was going on. And in my life, a lot of Black people felt like they had a reason to hate white people. That's not what we were taught. And so when I got back up to Salt Lake, Sindi and I got together, and we got to know each other better and talked about this stuff that we're talking about now, about the racial issue, and I said, "Well, if you can get me in the house, let me meet them. I think they'll like me," right? And so that never happened.
And let me say that, you know, I began to understand a little, because here's someone's daughter, right? And if I'm a parent, I want the best for my kids. And sometimes that means my best, right? Whatever those things are, and for them obviously it was marry somebody within your race, maybe marry somebody within your religion.
So, Sindi was teaching me. She really was. She was teaching me about a lot of things that I didn't know from, from that perspective. And throughout the course of that teaching and seeing each other, we fell in love with each other. And it came to the point where her family knew about it. And then she got called home on a Monday, I didn't know what family home evening was, and it was on a Monday night, but that wasn't a family home evening meeting, the family was there, but it was more of an intervention. And so she sat in the middle and everybody had their turn. And bottom line was she had to, she had to make a choice.
The ultimatum was you choose us or you choose him. And she stood up. And she walked to the door, and . . . she said, "I choose him." And so as I recollect that, and, as I always think about it, I always think of how fortunate I was that she did choose me that day. And it was not a very easy choice for her, you know, she loved her family. And then in my eyes, I knew that, gosh . . . her family, she couldn't have a bad family, her parents couldn't be bad, because they raised her–look what they raised, right?
And so she was pretty much kicked out of the house for, I don't know, three or four years. No phone calls, no conversations, and, of course, we got married. I wasn't a member so it had to be a civil wedding. And I was called overseas, after a few, a bunch of years in the NBA and went over to Italy, and went to Greece first and then went to Italy.
And I was over there by myself actually, before she would come over, and I asked her if she could get me the name, the number of the LDS mission there. And only reason I really asked was because I couldn't speak the language right away, and I knew that there were some missionaries there who could help teach me to do that.
But it turned into something totally different. I knew a lot about the Church, I'd had the discussions before, so I may have known more than those missionaries did. But to have them come into my home and befriend me and eat my food and then have some great conversation with me was amazing.
So yeah, I mean, there's a lot in that story, I'm sure, but suffice it to say that Sindi has been one of the most influential people in my entire life. And I've had a lot of influential people, from my parents to great teachers and coaches. But as far as how to, again, we talk about the lens, right, we talk about not seeing the color, but seeing through that and seeing the heart, and that's exactly what she did in my case, and I'm so grateful that she did that.
Morgan Jones 38:32
Yeah. Thurl when you were over there in Italy, you said–so I thought it was interesting, you go to Italy, you kind of have no idea why you felt led to go there. You get there, you reach out to the missionaries, you start having some conversations with them, they end up bringing their mission president over one night, and you said that in retrospect, you can see that that conversation that you had with the mission president that night was one of the main reasons you went to Italy. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Thurl Bailey 39:05
Absolutely. Well, first of all, before I went over to Italy, and during the course of Sindi and I's relationship, I would go to Church with her, right. And in particular, I would go at the beginning of the month to fast and testimony meetings. I had never been before and never been invited really by anyone else, but I would go there and I . . . and I think early on I probably tried to compare some of it to my upbringing.
And it was a lot like my upbringing. But even more so when people would walk up and bear their testimonies, I just felt this urge, even though I wasn't a member, I felt this urge to want to share. And there would be times when I would walk up there not being a member and I'd express my feelings about what I felt about Jesus Christ, what I knew about him and, and so there was the gravitation there. There was a learning process there.
And I knew in order for me to get the answers that I wanted, I had to search for them. And one of those was Blacks and the priesthood, right? I had heard some things, it was more about what I didn't know, right? Because I truly believe that every Church or religion has experienced racism at some point, right. That's just, that's just our mortal selves, right? And so I knew the answer after a while, because I would ask different people I played basketball with on the Jazz team with a few guys that were LDS, and we'd get into conversations about the priesthood and why Blacks couldn't hold it for a long time.
So I ended up deciding that if I really wanted to, to know the answer to that, I had to ask the right person. So I got on my knees, right, and I got on my knees and I asked, "Heavenly Father . . ." I posed the same question to Him, and for Him to make that answer known to me in His own time.
And when I was in Italy, I even asked the missionaries that during our conversation, and they were just awesome, right? I mean, they, if they didn't really know, they would say, and I think they felt like that their answer was not something that . . . not necessarily "satisfied" me, but they went to the right person. So they brought the mission president over.
And he came over and I posed the question to him. He didn't even bring it up. It was at the end of the night, and he asked me if I had any questions. And then I posed the question to him, and he got this big smile on his face, Morgan, he just, I didn't think his grin could get any bigger than what it had already been. And he talked about that declaration and how excited he was.
And he said, "Thurl, listen, first of all, none of us on this earth are perfect." He said, "But the gospel is." He said, "It is the most perfect thing that you will ever hold in your hand here on earth." And he talked about how it wasn't time, you know, he said those words to me, and it was as simple as it sounded. When he said, “It wasn't time,” it just, I felt like this weight was off my shoulders, because I knew exactly what that meant, right. I knew exactly what it meant.
He said–he went into it a little bit with his thoughts, and he said that it just wasn't time, Heavenly Father knows the time and the place. And we're going to make a lot of mistakes on this earth as mortal men. But Heavenly Father knew when the right time was. And they left–we cried a lot. We–all four of us–were crying, mission president, missionaries, myself, my wife was over here in the States, and when they left my house that night, I knew.
I had read the Book of Mormon several times, but I knew why I had come to Italy. It wasn't for basketball. Basketball was the vehicle that got me there. But for me, it was–I needed to make that decision–a tough decision as well, I could have stayed here in the NBA and made tons of money. More money than I made over there on the last place team, why would I go on the last place team?
Well, I went because there were other things going on. And Sindi and I figured that if all we had was each other over there, then we would be away from a lot of the noise that was going on over here. So we took that chance. And I remember calling her from Italy and telling her I was going to be baptized. And somehow she knew it. She just had this, she just had this–this feeling, I don't know what it is about women a lot, well, I do know what it is, but she had this way of knowing without, she never forced or pressured me she taught in her own way, she learned in her own way. So, I was baptized in December of 1995, and we were sealed together in Switzerland, in the Swiss temple in Bern a year later.
Morgan Jones 45:15
Amazing. Thurl, I think that is such a neat story. And it's neat to see how God sometimes leads us to places that we don't expect and works in mysterious ways. And clearly, he was working in you. One thing that struck me, listening to you tell the story somewhere else is, you know, you were following the spirit, even to get there to Italy, you were not a member of the Church, and I think that's something that sometimes I think as members of the church, we think we have a market on receiving inspiration, and that is absolutely not true. And you're evidence of that.
You were baptized in the 90s. It's been 25 years since you were baptized. And at the time you gave a fireside, not long after being baptized, and you said that you felt strongly that God had a work for you to do. In retrospect, what do you think that work has been up to this point?
Thurl Bailey 46:12
Wow, Morgan, that's a great question. Let me say before I answer that, that God also has a way of making things really, right. Not just for me, but for other people. My father-in-law baptized me, right. The same man who didn't accept me at first. My mother in law was standing right across from me. Before I went down into the waters of baptism, we caught each other's eye, and it was as if we were speaking to each other and saying that everything that happened before this maybe needed to happen to teach us.
To teach her about unconditional love, to teach me about forgiveness. And things are, things are great with my in laws now. And you know, I joke, and I say, "Now I can't get rid of them." But I just wanted to say that because I always knew they were great people, right? And sometimes, you know, we have to go through some of these things to understand, to get more clarity on how, you know, Heavenly Father wants us to live and treat each other.
So I would say that, I don't know all those answers yet, right? I don't know exactly what God has in store for me. I hope I'm on the right path. And sometimes you don't know that, you just try to do the right things and do the best you can, knowing that you're not perfect, knowing you're going to make mistakes, knowing you're going to slip, you're going to stumble, when you're going to have good days and bad days.
But I'm hoping that I'm on the right track. And I'm hoping that I've been doing some of that as well, all my life. Not just since I've been LDS, because I think that's . . . when I first learned about Jesus Christ, you know, it was always . . . I knew I was never going to be perfect, but if I could be as good as I can be, as He wants me to be, then I'm on the right track knowing that, you know, it's not going to be a perfect picture. But so I think an answer to that question, I'm still a work in progress, like we all are.
Morgan Jones 48:41
That's awesome. Thurl my last question for you is the question that we ask at the end of every episode of this podcast, and that is, what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Thurl Bailey 48:55
What does it mean to me to be all in gospel Jesus Christ, well, I think a lot of it goes back to what we've been talking about. Those people in my life who saw something in me, right. Saw a coach who saw a potential. A beautiful young woman who saw potential in me as her future husband and her kids dad. I think all in means trying to live up to that potential as best you can.
All in means what lens—I know what lens God sees me through, right. He wants me to return to Him someday. And so I, in turn, have to use what I have to get there, best way I can. The way I see people, the way I treat people, the way I talk to people, the way I raise my kids, the way I treat my wife, the way I serve. And so that's what it really means to me, Morgan, is all those things that I know, Christ sees in me. I have to be an example of Him here, right? I have to be committed. Just like the coach said, "Listen, if you're going to commit, I'm going to be there," right, "and when you decide this is what you want–I'm right here.”
And I know that Jesus Christ is the same way for all of us, right. He just wants us to commit. And he wants us to be all in. And so I'm trying every day to keep my hand in that huddle and be all in, and again, it's difficult for all of us, but I think just like any muscle, the more you do it, the stronger it gets. And it becomes habitual for you, right. And that's really the place that I want to aspire to is to have great habits and be able to return to him one day.
Morgan Jones 51:25
Thank you so much Thurl. I've never thought of it that way. And I love that. I love the idea that God saw potential in us and that's the reason that he gave us a Savior. And so thank you so much for sharing that.
Thurl Bailey 51:39
Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Morgan Jones 51:43
A huge thank you to Big T, Thurl Bailey for joining us on this week's episode. We are grateful to Derek Campbell for his help, and also grateful to Erika Free who was our sound tech on this episode. Thank you so much for listening and we hope you have a great week.