Len Bias: 25 Years Later

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of Len Bias’s death, an event that sent shockwaves through the local community, every sport and the entire world. The University of Maryland star died just two days after being the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft, falling victim to cardiac arrhythmia caused by a cocaine overdose. I was only a year old when Len Bias died, and everything I’ve learned about him is through research and the memories of people who can still recall the moment. Even after one quarter of a century, Terps, people from the area and Celtics fans alike all shake their heads in disappointment at the thought of what could’ve been. At a memorial service for Bias just days after his death, Red Auerbach revealed that he had been plotting to draft Bias for three years, adding another piece to a powerhouse that was just coming off their third NBA Championship of the ’80’s. It’s already ridiculous to think that the NBA champs could somehow get away with stealing the second pick in the draft, but to use it on arguably the best college player in the country was ridiculous. Sadly, Bias never donned that #30 Celtics jersey.

The magnitude of Bias’s death went beyond the court, looming over everyone involved like a storm cloud. The Celtics suffered tragedy again when rising star Reggie Lewis collapsed and died suddenly during an off-season practice in July of ’93. Worse, the organization wouldn’t capture another Championship until 2008. Although Maryland won the NCAA Championship in 2002, Bias’s death ripped Pandora’s Box open for the school. An investigation showed that Bias was 21 credits shy of graduation, despite having exhausted all of his eligibility. In addition, Maryland coach Lefty Driessel apparently told all Maryland players to remove the drugs from Bias’s room after he was pronounced dead. The aftermath would be Driessel and Maryland athletic director Dick Dull (yeah, seriously) resigning that fall and Maryland being banned from TV and stripped of scholarships for a year beginning in ’88-89. Let’s not ignore the impact that this has on the Bias family. If losing their eldest son to a drug overdose two days after what was supposed to be the family’s shining moment wasn’t enough, Bias’s younger brother Jay (another promising player) was murdered in the parking lot of P.G. Plaza mall in December of 1990. After losing both of their sons, James and Lonise Bias got involved in advocacy; James throwing himself into handgun control and Lonise becoming an anti-drug lecturer.

The death of Len Bias definitely defined a decade, but I wouldn’t say it changed the perception of casual drug use because people haven’t learned from it. To this day, athletes still get caught up using legal and illegal drugs, and society continues to downplay “casual” drug use. At the end of the day, Len Bias’s death wasn’t a wake up call, it was just the beginning of an issue with no forseeable end in sight.

1 Comment

  1. HHIS I should have tohught of that!

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