Leonard “Len” Bias is undoubtedly one of the best basketball players who never made it to the NBA. He was one of the best college basketball players of all time. He could score, rebound, and pass the ball very well. Even today, he is often compared to Michael Jordan.
Bias died on June 19, 1986, 48 hours after the Boston Celtics picked him second overall in the NBA draught. This was one of the saddest and most shocking things to ever happen in sports. Bias wasn’t the only player in the 1986 NBA draught class to have bad luck.
A rising star: Len Bias
After high school, Len Bias played basketball at the University of Maryland. As a Terrapin, he was named ACC Player of the Year two years in a row and made two All-American teams. He also finished his career at Maryland with 2,149 points, a record at the time.
In 2003, the legendary Duke Coach K told the Boston Globe that Michael Jordan and Len Bias stood out to him during his career. He also said, “I think he would have been one of the best NBA players.”
Having a lot of power
Icon of coaching In 1986, Red Auerbach was the General Manager of the Celtics. He led the Celtics to nine championships, including eight from 1959 to 1966. In 1966, he became the team’s general manager.
Since Bias’ sophomore year at Maryland, Auerbach had kept an eye on him. He wanted to add some young talent to his powerful but aging team, which included Bill Walton, Kevin McHale, and Larry Bird.
Len Bias was sure to be taken early in the draught, so Auerbach worked out a trade with the Seattle Supersonics to make sure the Celtics didn’t miss out. Boston gave Seattle Gerald Henderson in exchange for the team’s second pick, which they used to pick Bias.
Len Bias Death
Bias stayed in New York the day after the draught to work out some details with his new team and sign a $3 million endorsement deal with Reebok. Late that night, he drove back to the campus of the University of Maryland, where his friends and teammates were waiting to celebrate.
Bias didn’t usually partake in any drugs. In fact, the LA Times says that he probably had never done drugs before that fateful night. He had always passed the tough drug tests at the university and the NBA, but in the early hours of June 19, 1986, he took a line of cocaine, which killed him.
At 6:32 a.m., a childhood friend found Bias unconscious and quickly called 9-1-1. At 6:40, an ambulance came, but the paramedics couldn’t bring him back to life. They rushed him to the nearby Leland Memorial Hospital, where they tried everything, including putting a pacemaker in him, to bring him back. Bias was said to be dead at 8:55 in the morning.
The days that came after were full of chaos. Police found cocaine in Bias’s car, and it turned out that his close friend, who called 9-1-1, was a known drug dealer. Investigations showed that Bias needed 21 more credits to graduate, even though he had already used up all four years of NCAA eligibility.
Lefty Driesell, who had been the head coach at the school for 17 years and held the record for wins at the time, reportedly told the players to get rid of any drugs left in Bias’ room before police could find them.
The effects of the fallout would last for a long time. Friends and teammates of Bias were charged with having cocaine. Driesell was fired in October, and the Athletic Director, Dick Dull, quit simultaneously. The university couldn’t go on TV for a year, and the NCAA took away all of its scholarships.
The U.S. Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, also called the “Len Bias Law,” was passed by Congress. It increased the minimum penalties for drug crimes by a lot.
The NBA draught is coming soon, and it’s hard not to think about what would have happened to Len Bias if he had been able to play professionally.
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