Monday, March 20, 2006

Historical Glimpses: Len Bias

(FortCollins-CO) With the NCAA tournament in full swing and providing upset after upset, I thought it was time that a Historical Glimpse takes a retrospective look on one of the worst collegiate tragedies in basketball history. With all the buzz about college player of the year and potential lottery picks it is important that we keep things in perspective and learn from history’s mistakes. This installment is by special request and it was with my pleasure that I provide my findings on a player that taught us all the ultimate lesson.

Len Bias was a college basketball player for the University of Maryland with unlimited potential. He was a specimen at 6’8” and had a body that appeared to be chiseled out of stone. He led the Terps in scoring back-to-back years in 1984 and 1985 with averages of 18.9 and 23.2. He was Maryland’s leading rebounder in the same years by snaring 6.8 in ’84 and 7.0 in ’85. He had the best field goal percentage in ’84 as well. Len Bias was as talented as anyone could remember a player being and had even drawn comparisons to Michael Jordan.

Fate would have had it that the Boston Celtics would have just won another NBA World Championship and would also capture the second overall pick in the 1986 draft. The luck of the Celtics was due to a trade made on October 10th, 1984 that General Manager Jan Volk orchestrated. The trade that included to dealing of guard Gerald Henderson to the Seattle Supersonics for their 1986 first round draft pick. The Celtics were thinking that this trade would free up some playing time for Danny Ainge and were secretly hoping for the Sonics to flop. Both outcomes went in favor of the Celtics and they selected Len Bias second overall in 1986.

Returning back to Maryland after meeting with the Celtics, Len and his father went their separate ways for the last time. Len returned back to his dormitory at the University of Maryland and was met by friends and well-wishers. After experimenting with cocaine at a party, Bias fell victim to cardiac arrhythmia that was brought on by an overdose. This tragic turn of events happened less than 48 hours after Bias was drafted by the Celtics and very well have changed the way NBA history unfolded for years to come.

Michael Wilbon of ESPN and The Washing Post covered the star at Maryland in his first two years and would also agree that the impact of the Bias’s tragedy changed the outcome of history. “His death changed the history of the NBA," Wilbon says. “Because then there are no Bad Boy Pistons, and who knows when the Bulls would have won? Bird and McHale would never have had to play all those minutes. The Celtics would have kept winning.” Needless to say the Celtics have never fully recovered and returned to their previous dominant ways.

What is even more illustrating of the unlimited potential that Bias possessed was the opinion of the great opposing coach of Duke University. Krzyzewski had this to say about Bias’s death. “It hurt our sport. Above and beyond the loss of life, we never got to see one of the truly great ones become great.”
Lofty words from respected individuals for a player regardless of era. I have often times wondered why the story of Len Bias isn’t more prominent in basketball history. There is so much to learn from this tragedy and hopefully current and future college stars are fluent in the story’s morals. While enjoying the plot twists and shuffles of the NCAA tournament this year, remember Len Bias for the player he was and the player he might have become when relishing in the success of your team's young star.


nanananana said...

wow, a terribly horrific story and such a wonder of "why" this happens to such an outstanding player. One of the saddest stories ever. Thanks for sharing this story.

J Dub said...

hey man good tribute and thanks for posting this, if you ever get a chance watch SportsCentury 1986, shows some really good footage of him

J Dub said...

hey man good story and thanks for posting it, if you ever get a chance watch SportsCentury 1986, shows some good footage of him

Nugg Doctor said...


The pleasure is all mine. I'm glad you checked back to see your request materialize. It was an enjoyable article to write and more enjoyable to know you came back to read it.

J Dub said...

np man your site is cool, didn't mean to make that previous post twice but i didn't think it went through the first time

Nugg Doctor said...

Hey J Dub,

No problem at all. Im glad your coming back for more looks at my site. As soon as the off season rolls around I will be releasing Historical Glimpses articles all the time!

The Nugg Doctor