Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press
Former NBA player Thurl Bailey, at the podium, leads the invocation at the opening session of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., today.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Former Utah Jazz star Thurl Bailey opened the Republican National Convention with a prayer on Monday.

In sticking with the sudden shift in focus for the GOP gathering, Bailey prayed for protection and assistance for the victims of Hurricane Gustav. His prayer was delivered to a practically silent hall, as the thousands of delegates and media quieted when he began.

"Our thoughts and our prayers are with the thousands of men, women and children along the Gulf Coast that are in harm's way of Hurricane Gustav," he said.

It is times of trouble, he said, that the American spirit shines brightest.

"We are reminded how fortunate we are to share in the blessings of freedom," he said.

He also prayed for soldiers, past and present.

"Honor those from the past that gave all, and those in the present who hold the mantle of responsibility for all we have inherited," he said.

Bailey's prayer was one of the first things the delegates did, along with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and listening to Miss Minnesota Angie McDermott sing the National Anthem.

Bailey was given a spot at the podium in part because of his ties to Minnesota, since he played for the Minnesota Timberwolves from 1992 to 1995. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.