Whenever he attends services at Mormon churches in Salt Lake
City, Jazz reserve forward Thurl Bailey draws surprised glances.
But Bailey, possibly the only 6'11" African-American of Mormon
faith, doesn't mind. "As a kid I carried the sousaphone in my
school marching band," he says in his smooth baritone. "Believe
me, I'm used to being noticed."
In his second stint with the Jazz, Bailey, 38, has caught the
attention of the Delta Center faithful--and not because he's the
only Mormon on the roster. Nicknamed Father Time by his
teammates, he is once again a contributor on what was, at week's
end, the league's winningest team. He blocks shots, sets hard
screens and plays steady help defense. "He does the little
things that make the other guys successful," Jazz assistant
coach Gordon Chiesa says.
Coming off the bench is new for Bailey, who in his first stint
with the Jazz, from 1983 to '91, was a high-scoring small
forward with a lethal jump hook. A first-round draft pick out of
North Carolina State, he played 665 games with Utah, averaging
14.6 points and 5.7 rebounds and once, against the Nuggets in
'88, scoring 41 points in a game. But by the beginning of
Bailey's ninth season his game was in decline, and in November
'91 he was traded to the Timberwolves for forward Tyrone Corbin.
After three lackluster seasons in Minnesota, Bailey decided to
leave the NBA for a higher-paying job with Panionis of the Greek
league. He spent a season in Greece and then three in Italy as a
In Europe, Bailey added about 20 pounds to his 232-pound frame,
learned to play in the low post and developed a new appreciation
for the NBA. He also found spiritual fulfillment in the Mormon
faith. "One day it all just clicked," says Bailey, whose second
wife, Sindi, whom he married in '94, is a Mormon. "I decided
that this was the path I wanted to take."
Bailey decided last year that it was time to give the NBA
another go. He turned down lucrative offers in Europe and
targeted the Jazz. After he impressed Utah players during pickup
games over the summer, he was invited to training camp by Jazz
coach Jerry Sloan. In need of a big body to replace the departed
Antoine Carr, the Jazz signed Bailey for the $1 million exception.
Through Sunday, Bailey was averaging a modest 4.5 points and 2.4
rebounds in 13.6 minutes, but he has come on strong since
returning on March 3 from a strained left quadriceps that
sidelined him for two weeks. During an 88-87 victory over the
Rockets on April 1, Bailey had 11 points, five rebounds and four
blocked shots, and he helped shut down Hakeem Olajuwon in the
fourth quarter. "He's done a good job," Sloan says. "He knows
what we're trying to do, and people have to guard him. If they
don't, he'll make baskets."
With his professional and spiritual life in order, Bailey has
begun work on another dream. An aspiring singer, he has a CD due
out in May entitled Faith in Your Heart, a collection of mostly
original adult-contemporary songs. "Mostly they're love songs,"
Bailey says. "Kind of like Barry White, without all the begging."
Call him Father Time, the Jazz Singer or Thurl (as in Pearl)
Bailey. In all his endeavors, Bailey stands out in a crowd.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH