Wednesday, June 17, 2009

JAMES BAILEY - Jammin James

James Bailey is tall. He may be the tallest person ever born in Laurens County. His height - six feet nine inches in his stocking feet - came in handy for slam-dunking basketballs, blocking jump shots, and getting stuff off the top shelf at Wal-Mart without tip-toeing.

Bailey was born in Dublin on May 21, 1957. His family moved away a short time later. James began to grow taller and taller. His height and superior athletic ability made him an outstanding high school basketball star of the Xaverian Brothers High School team of Westwood, Massachusetts. For his outstanding ability and play, James was awarded a scholarship to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

James began his career with the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers in the fall of 1975. By the fifth game, James was named as the starting center. His coach, Tom Young, noticed something special in the freshman. The Knights won their first game, and then another. When Rutgers eased past Boston College by twenty three points, sportswriters began to take notice. The Knights defeated Georgia Tech to win the school’s first Christmas holiday tournament. In each of the three games heading into the Poinsettia Classic, Rutgers scored more than 95 points in each game. By New Year’s Day, Rutgers was eleven and zero. Four opponents gave up one hundred points to Bailey’s team. In the biggest game of the year against arch rival Princeton, the Knights scored seventy five points against one of the nation’s best defensive teams. The Knights scored more than one hundred points in their last two regular season games. This was in the days when there were no three-point shots. In the post season tournament, Rutgers breezed to its second straight ECAC title and earned a bid to the NCAA tournament. With wins over Princeton, Uconn, De Paul, and VMI, the Knights made it into the final four. The Knights perfect 31 and 0 season came to end with an 86 - 70 loss to Michigan. Bailey vaulted to national prominence in his freshman season.

Bailey led his team to the NIT in the next two years and one final trip to the NCAA tournament in his senior year. During his four years at Rutgers, Bailey averaged 16.7 points and 8.7 rebounds a game. He still holds the Rutgers record for field goals in a season (312 in 1978.) Amazingly, the big man had 1755 steals (second most in school history.) Bailey blocked 330 shots and was feared by all those who dared to try him under the basket. James Bailey was one of the first college centers to perfect the "lob dunk." He had 116 dunks in the 1977-78 season, more than many entire teams. His junior season was his best. Bailey won the Widner Trophy as the best player in the East. He was chosen as a first team All - American and finished the season with a 23.5 points per game scoring average. His career best game came against William and Mary when he scored forty three points and grabbed thirteen rebounds. A local sportscaster described Bailey that night as if he were "a slot machine in front of an addicted gambler - all the numbers were coming up right."

Just days after the end of his junior season, James was selected to play for the United States in the 1978 World Invitational Tournament, a sort of off-year Olympic tournament. He was named the starting center. The team had among its members a forward from Indiana State by the name of Larry Bird and a guard from Michigan state Earvin Johnson, who you know as "Magic." Also playing on the team were future pros, Joe Barry Carroll, Phil Ford, Jack Givens, David Greenwood, Kyle Macy, Rick Robey, and Sidney Moncrief. The USA team defeated Cuba 109-64, Yugoslavia 88 to 83 and the Soviet Union 107 to 82 to win the world crown. Bailey was third on the team in scoring with twelve points per game, more than Bird and "Magic" put together.

Bailey garnered many honors in his four year career at Rutgers. He was first team All Atlantic and a member of the All Atlantic Tournament Team in each of his last three seasons, Tournament MVP in his senior year, Atlantic Player of the Year in his last two seasons, winner of the Donald Courson Trophy as the top male athlete in the Class of 1980, and a first team All American in his last two seasons. His team won ninety five games and lost only twenty eight. The Knights were fifty and three at home.

Bailey was drafted sixth in the first round of the June 1979 N.B.A. draft by the world champion Seattle Supersonics. Chosen ahead of James were Earvin "Magic" Johnson, David Greenwood, Bill Cartwright, Greg Kelser, and Sidney Moncrief.

The defending champion Supersonics finished with the second best record in league in Bailey’s rookie season. They defeated Portland and Milwaukee, but lost to division rival and eventual league champions Los Angeles in the Conference Finals. In his only playoff appearance, Bailey was assigned to guard the legendary Kareem Abul Jabbar. Bailey became a starter after an injury to Lonnie Shelton. He had his best season in 1980-1, despite his team’s tumble to the cellar of the Pacific Division. Playing in all eighty two games, he established career highs in nearly all scoring and defensive categories. It was during that year that he hit his only three point shot (out of thirteen attempts.) During his third season, he was traded to the New Jersey Nets, who finished third in their division.

Bailey was traded in his fourth season to the Houston Rockets, who finished last in the league. During that year Bailey led the team in field goal percentage. Bailey replaced the legendary Elvin Hayes in the lineup. At the time, Hayes was the all-time NBA leader in minutes played and third all-time in points scored. The Rockets were a little better in the 83-84 season, finishing next to last in the league. Bailey was traded a third time in 1984 to the New York Knicks, who finished (you guessed it), next to last. It only got worse the next year when the Knicks were in the basement of the NBA. Bailey was shipped across the river to New Jersey in 1986. Again, Bailey’s team finished next to last. In his last NBA season, 1987-88, he finally got out of the cellar, but barely. The Phoenix Suns won one out of three games and finished as the fifth worst team. In his seven-year career, James Bailey scored 5246 points and amassed 2988 rebounds. After his last season in the NBA, Bailey played in Europe until his knees finally gave out.

On the night of February 8, 1993, thousands of his fans and twelve of his former teammates turned out to honor James Bailey with the retirement of his number 20 jersey. Bailey is only one of three Scarlet Knights to have been accorded such a high honor. That same year, James was one of the initial five inductees into the Rutgers Basketball Hall of Fame. He was joined by the late Jim Valvano, legendary N.C. State basketball coach and colorful sportscaster. Bailey still lives in the area today and keeps himself physically fit by drag racing in Englishtown.

Unfortunately for James Bailey and the game of basketball, James was never surrounded in the NBA with the talent he had playing with him at Rutgers University. Consequently, he never realized his true potential. Whether you call him, "J.B.," "King James," or "Jammin James," James Bailey, during the last half of the 1970s, was one of the most dominating centers in college basketball.


David said...

James Bailey was n ot only a dominating player in the paint, he was a genuinely "nice" guy. If Lenny Wilkens could have understood him more, he would have really blossomed into the star he truly should have been. Not many players in the leagus at that time possessed his natural ability. I am glad that I got the opportunity to meet him, and call him a friend. David Foster

Anonymous said...

I believe I was watching a Sunday morning (because I was in CA)nationally televised game when James was with the Sonics, and he blocked a KAJ skyhook. Can you confirm this?
Also, I got to see him in play in person many times in the Boston area. What a force he was!