SALT LAKE CITY — Roughly an hour ahead of the Utah Jazz’s tipoff against the Sacramento Kings, former Jazzman Thurl Bailey zeroed in on a stack of notes at the scorer’s table next to play-by-play announcer Craig Bolerjack on Friday night.
Although Big T’s professional basketball career ended two decades ago, the player-turned-analyst stays engrossed in the game through his current role on the AT&T SportsNet television broadcast team.
However, even at 57-years-old, those memories of competing on the hardwood aren’t close to fading from his mind.
Especially, on the 35-year anniversary of witnessing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar become the NBA’s all-time scoring leader on April 5, 1984 against the Jazz.
“I was actually on the court and that was a great moment,” said Bailey, who ended with 10 points and five rebounds in Utah’s 129-115 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. “That was a great moment in history to be a part of for one of the greatest players to play the game and to be a part of that history is awesome.
“We had a really good team in that time, and we were kind of in the transition, trying to figure out where we were going to be, but I remember the moment clearly of him sweeping that skyhook across the lane over Mark Eaton,” he continued. “Matter of fact, whenever I see the video or the pictures it’s kind of cool. They beat us that night but even with that, it’s good to be a part of history in some way.”
Abdul-Jabbar nailed his trademark skyhook shot to pass Wilt Chamberlain’s career total of 31,419 points against the Jazz in Las Vegas and his 38,387 points throughout his 20-year career still stands as the all-time record. Utah’s Karl Malone is No. 2 with 36,928 total points.
Former Jazz head coach Frank Layden would lead the Jazz to the second round of the playoffs after finishing 45-37 that same season, but still remembers Abdul-Jabbar’s big shot from the sidelines in Sin City. In an attempt to become more profitable, some Jazz games would get played at Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center instead of the Salt Palace to draw a bigger attendance and more profit during that era.
“It was a big moment in NBA history. It’s too bad that it didn’t happen on one of our courts,” Layden said. “It would have been best if it had happened at Los Angeles or if it would have happened here in Utah, but it happened at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on a neutral court.
“I could remember going out on the court and congratulating him and he thanked me,” he described. I’ve known him for years; I’ve known him back from his New York days when he was just a high school player, so it was an exciting moment. He’s a good guy who works hard and that big thing about Kareem is not only could he play but he knew how to play. He knew the game and I always admired that.
“I don’t know if we were prepared for that, but we knew it was a possibility. I was making my contributions to his entrance into the hall of fame, that’s all I can say.”
Malone and John Stockton would later come along to help create legendary moments within the franchise, such as the back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998, but the Jazz were also on the other side of history when Lakers star Kobe Bryant went off for 60 points against Utah in his 2016 farewell game.
Bryant would end his career as the No. 3 scorer in NBA history but even as NBA superstars such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant continue to climb the list, both Bailey and Layden both have different opinions on whether or not anyone will surpass the “Cap.”
“You never can tell. They never thought they’d break Babe Ruth’s record but there always comes a time. Who knows?” Layden said. “Every record is out there to be broken. The players are getting bigger and faster and better and scoring is more of a dramatic thing in the game so there’s always a possibility, but he didn’t just score, he won games. He made that combination of winning championships, too.
“A lot of players are going to play going forward as long as he did but with the 3-point shot out now, guys will come close,” Bailey added. “If they can avoid some major injuries and have that longevity that the Captain had, one day but not anytime soon.”