NOTE - these articles originally appeared in the June 19, 2006 edition of Baltimore PressBox magazine, http://www.pressboxonline.com/story.cfm?id=331.
Remembering Len Bias
To remind myself what Len Bias looked like and played like to write this article, I went to College Park last week and visited the archives. At the suggestion of ESPN's Scott Van Pelt, a Maryland grad and as good an unofficial historian of all things Terps basketball-related as you can find, I watched the 1984 ACC Championship game. During that game, Bias destroyed Duke with 26 points on 12-of-17 shooting. It was incredible to watch.
Bias, then just a sophomore and becoming more versatile and confident by the game, scored on an array of baseline jumpers, monster dunks, and turn-around jumpers that made him all but impossible to defend. He jumped incredibly high and straight up on his jumper with perfect form.
For me, two moments stood out in particular. The first came at the start of the second half. Guard Jeff Adkins threw an alley-oop to Bias but the pass was way too short and looked destined to be intercepted. Bias leaped in the air from the baseline and, reaching back, swiped the ball with his left hand toward the rim and away from Dan Meagher, the Duke defender. Bias then gathered the ball off the rim, took one dribble and slammed it home on the other side.
The second moment happened with just 21 seconds left in the game and Maryland up 71-60. Duke called a timeout but the game was over, Maryland had finally done it. The pep band, as it did in those days, broke out into "Amen," the gospel sing-along and theme song for Maryland wins.
After a series of hugs and high fives, Lenny took a step back from the mob around the bench and clapped his hands high above his head and mouthed the words, "A-MEN… A-MEN … A-MEN…. A-MEN, A-MEN!"
Before it was time to go back on the court to finish things off, Lenny stood behind the huddle and stretched out those long, rippled arms out to his sides.
Then he hugged the whole team.
It Was 20 Years Ago Today
By Greg Abel
Twenty years have passed since that unbelievable, surreal and profoundly sad morning when Len Bias -- Maryland's own chiseled superhero in high tops -- died from a cocaine overdose less than 48 hours after being drafted second overall by the Boston Celtics.
For Maryland students, fans and anyone connected to the university at that time, the moment remains burned in memory never to be erased, joining a list of horrendous but significant, "you remember exactly where you were" moments like the Kennedy assassination for members of an earlier generation, or the Challenger explosion.
"I used to have to pull him out of practice he would dominate so much." - Lefty Driesell
Ask any Maryland fan. They can close their eyes and it is as vivid today as it was then.
"Greg, wake up," Eric said, shaking my shoulders. My older brother, the basketball star in the family, was kneeling next to my bed. I opened my eyes, groggy from sleep. I was 16. It was summer break. 9 a.m. was early.
I can still remember that look on his face; it was a look I had not seen before.
"Len Bias is dead," he said.
Eric may as well have said that Mom and Dad packed up and moved to the moon.
The previous summer at basketball camp, I watched Len and his younger brother Jay put on a dunking exhibition that left the campers speechless and in complete awe. I will never forget it.
Just two days earlier, Len put on that green Celtics cap and flashed that brilliant smile.
"What? What are you talking about? That can't be true," I said.
I just wanted to go back to sleep, but he persisted.
"It's on the radio. Len Bias is dead."
We turned on what was then B104 and I can remember the DJ playing "Missing You" by Diana Ross as a dedication to Lenny. For some reason that made it real to me. To this day I can't think of anything but Len Bias when I hear that song.
We're missing him still.
Much has changed in two decades, of course. Len Bias is no longer the all-time leading scorer in Maryland history; that honor belongs to Juan Dixon. Lefty Driesell is no longer the face of Maryland basketball; that distinction belongs to Gary Williams. Those facts, along with the 2002 National Championship and subsequent move to the Comcast Center have dimmed the extent to which Bias and his legacy define Maryland basketball.
But when we look up during a Maryland home game and see number 34 hanging in the rafters, we remember him like it was yesterday. We remember Len Bias as a person and as a player, and we remember how his game and sudden death affected all of us.
From players to coaches, from fans to members of the media, everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news and how it changed their lives.
Retired college basketball coach
When I think back about Leonard I have mixed emotions. I think about him as a person and what a great kid he was. He was just a super kid. I never had any problems with him.
He probably improved as much or more than any player I ever coached. He could take you inside and dunk on you, shoot a jump shot, a turn-around jumper, a hook shot, he could do anything. And he was an excellent defensive player. Leonard worked so hard. I used to have to pull him out of practice he would dominate so much. I'd say, 'Leonard, get out. Let's see how we can do without you in there.'
The way I found out [about his death] was that the hospital called me. His parents called me. As far as I know, someone brought some drugs in there. He didn't know what he was doing. He tried it and it killed him.
I said to my son the other day, "Be honest with me, because people are going to ask me, 'did you know Lenny to ever use drugs?'" And he said, "Dad, I'm telling you, we would sit around and drink beer and he wouldn't even drink a beer with us."
The reason that I was able to handle it then and I am able to handle it today is because he was a born-again Christian and there's no doubt in my mind where he is -- he's in heaven.
Real estate investor, Roomed with Len Bias all four years at Maryland
The night that the whole event happened, I was at my girlfriend's house and I had fallen asleep and I had her wake me up because I had an exam the next morning. She woke me up at about 12:30 and I went back to the room that Len and I shared. In our room he had the Celtics jersey, the new pair of green Reebok sneakers. I'm thinking to myself, "the guy is about to be a Boston Celtic." I was in awe.
I went to the room on the other side of the suite, (teammate) Terry Long's room. I went to the door and knocked and there was a minute or two before it was opened. I went in there, gave [Bias] a hug and he lifted me off the floor, which wasn't unusual. I saw liquor and beer in the room but if there was anything else, they would not have pulled that out in front of me. I never knew Lenny to drink any liquor.
We talked for about 30 minutes and then I returned to my room and went to sleep. I was awakened three or four hours later at like 5 o'clock in the morning. David Gregg (another teammate) came in and said "Jeff, Jeff, wake up, Lenny is passed out." I said "what?" So I walk out into the living room and Lenny is on the floor, passed out.
You see this specimen on the floor. He had a perfect build. Perfectly cut with a small waist and to see him lying on the floor with his eyes closed… I didn't know what to think. He had a thick gold chain on his neck at the time. I'm so caught up in the moment, the paramedics are coming in the door, and I'm thinking the gold chain was choking him. I am trying to find out what happened, talking to Terry and David, and neither one responds to me.
I wasn't aware at the time, but the last thing I would have thought was in his system was drugs. I would have bet my life on the fact that Lenny wouldn't have used drugs, and also that it would have been the first time.
I choose to remember all the positive things. I smile daily thinking about different things we used to do. He was so much fun and so funny. Lenny had a warm heart, he was just a good person and that came from his family.
Mike Krzyzewski (via email)
Head Coach, Duke University
I have said many times that the two most difficult opposing players to prepare for in my time in the ACC were Michael Jordan and Len Bias. Len was a gifted player. He was special, and our league has had a lot of great players. The news of his death was tragic as he would have been an amazing professional player after his college career. It was a sad day for the entire sport of basketball as we lost one of the best players of that era. When I think about Len Bias now, I think of how hard he competed and how tremendously talented he was. Other than Michael Jordan, he is the player that no teams had the answer for. He was that good.
Sportscaster, Comcast SportsNet
"It was only after all the outpouring of emotion from around the country that I remember grasping for the first time that my son was a star. Up to then, he was just my son." - Lonise Bias
I was an intern at WUSA Channel 9 for the late, great Glenn Brenner, and we had a weekend sports anchor named James Brown. I was supposed to go out on my first story, a story on Georgetown guard Michael Jackson being drafted. I got a call from my mom.
She said "Lenny's dead" and for about 30 seconds I'm thinking, "Who in my family is named Lenny?" And finally I said, "Lenny who, mom?"
She said Len Bias.
I turned the TV on and saw the news and couldn't believe it. I just couldn't get my head around it. I was stunned.
I knew the players, I knew Lenny. I called the station and went right into work mode.
They told me to get over to campus right now; JB is on his way there. When I got to Cole Field House all the TV trucks were there, they gave me a microphone and a camera crew and said talk to as many people as you can.
We had our satellite truck parked near Washington Hall and Keith Gatlin came to the truck and asked to speak to JB. He took JB and they walked away. It was at that point that Gatlin told JB that this involved drugs. And I'll never forget JB, all 6-6 or 6-7 of him, he is a mountain of a man, I saw his body shrink. He came back to the truck and said, "We have to break this news."
After we got done with the 6:30 news, it finally dawned on me what took place. I just started to cry like a baby. Glenn Brenner picked me up, put me in his office and I lay on his couch until I could gather myself.
Scott van Pelt
ESPN SportsCenter Anchor and University of Maryland graduate
I was a sophomore and I was up at my girlfriend's house in Pennsylvania and I drove home because I had to get to my summer job, which was being the manager of the pool at Norbeck Country Club in Rockville.
I stopped at the 7-11 on Georgia Ave. in Olney to get a Big Gulp and I ran into my best friend's little brother. He had this look on his face and he said to me, "Did you hear about Bias?" And I say, "Yeah, he was the second pick, he's going to the Celtics," I thought he was talking about the draft.
He said "Bias is dead."
I said, "What are you talking about?"
And I am trying to process this information in my head. I'm 20 years old and not making sense of it. I'm pissed because I'm thinking he's not telling the truth. I remember just wandering out to the parking lot there thinking, "There's no way Len Bias is dead." I called someone to try to get to Keith Gatlin, who was one of my friends. It was just this awful, awful day. I had to work. I started just listening to the radio and hearing the stories and just freaking out.
I just tried to find someone, anyone to talk to about it. No one knew where anyone was. I drove over to campus and cameras and police are everywhere, it's just a freak show. I'm driving around thinking to myself, "This can't possibly be real."
Lenny was a god at Maryland. Absolutely a god. He was that good and he was larger than life in every sense of the word. That body, that booming voice, he was from outer space.
The thing that pissed me off more than anything and still to this day people will make an off-handed remark about it… yes, he lost his life to drugs. But I had fraternity brothers who did more drugs in a week than he did in his life. The fact that it implies he was some sort of drug fiend is a disrespectful way to view his life. As best I know, he was not into drugs.
I went to the memorial service for him at Cole. Jesse Jackson was there. Lefty spoke and Jesse spoke, Len's mom spoke. Lefty said, "One more time, let's give one more last standing O for Lenny." The place is going crazy. And you are there in Cole Field House and cheering for a dead guy. It was so bizarre.
If you are a Maryland person you can never escape it.
High School basketball coach and owner of an athletic training company
The night he passed out it was in my dorm room. I was not involved in the actual party or whatever they where doing. I heard paramedics and woke up to that.
How often does it come up? Every day. I'm in ACC country. I'm from North Carolina. I can be on vacation with my wife. I can be anywhere in the world and people say, "Weren't you the point guard when Len Bias passed away?" It's never about what kind of player I was or what kind of person I am. That's something that's going to follow me to my grave. I don't drink or smoke and never have, but Len's death put a negative perception on all of us.
We all know that there were and are drugs and alcohol on every campus. But because it was an ACC school and because Len lost his life, it was blown way out of proportion.
I'm 41 now and looking back on it, the way it came out made it seem like the whole team was on drugs. And I say this with no disrespect to anyone; Len Bias is not the only player in college basketball that had an encounter with drugs. It is unfortunate that he paid the ultimate price.
I always tell kids, "Please be careful of what you do and who you hang out with because you can be guilty by association." That's the thing that changed my life forever.
Head coach, University of Maryland
I was in the office at Ohio State that morning and a good friend called and said you won't believe this, but Len Bias died.
Your first inclination is to think it's someone's idea of a sick joke. He seemed invincible.
If you ever saw him, he looked like Superman. I just couldn't believe that it happened; it was a feeling of complete shock.
I think players today, the guys I am coaching were just born when he died. They know the history of it, and it's probably a good thing that they are aware of it. The athletic department is still very cautious in a lot of the things that they do that relate to his name.
As a coach, it's your greatest fear that one of your players dies a tragic death at an early age. Maryland became the whipping boy for what was wrong with college athletics. It wasn't fair. People would point to Maryland and say, "This is what's wrong with college athletics." Who is to say that it couldn't have been someone else?
In the 80s, cocaine was the problem. The drug testing wasn't anywhere near what it is today. If [Bias' death] had any positive effects, that was it. The death of Len Bias was a tough thing for the university. I am proud of the fact that we were able to recover.
When I first heard the news about Len's death, I was at home in bed. I was asleep when we received the call and I remembered thinking it was a dream and that I would awaken soon. It was early in the morning when we got the call. I remember going to the hospital after that and just not believing it. It was only after all the outpouring of emotion from around the country that I remember grasping for the first time that my son was a star. Up to then, he was just my son.
Len was my pride and joy and losing him was one of the most difficult, challenging times of my life. I believe that Len died so that others might live. Twenty years later, my mission is still the same: to educate parents on the important role they play in their child's decision about drug use. It's important for parents to monitor their kids and keep them away from drugs. We need to work to save more than just one life and turn the youth in a positive direction--then Len's death will have not been in vain.
Retired Head Coach, University of North Carolina
His senior year he was sensational. He improved each year and he almost single-handedly beat us here in Chapel Hill. I could see why Red Auerbach wanted him; he was very quick, a very good athlete and he got better and better every time we played.
The morning he died, our camp was in session and I was driving from one camp to the other, and I heard the news on the radio. I was in shock. The whole camp was in shock. It was amazing. It got so quiet everywhere. It was quiet at lunch, the whole camp, the kids; everyone in athletics that knew of him was in complete shock.
After I heard the news, I called Lee Fentress, his agent, who also represented Brad Daugherty and they were already working real hard to get things straight. It is a sad time and maybe the only good thing that could come from it is that others don't celebrate that way.
For more, including some very powerful and vivid accounts from fans about how they remember the one and only Len Bias, please click here. We also invite you to please share your own memories.
Author Greg Abel also shares his own memories.
Photos © Kevin Allen
Greg Abel is a freelance writer in Baltimore and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Compiled by Greg Abel for Baltimore Pressbox Magazine
John Kochan, former assistant coach, University of Maryland
Retired from basketball after many years as head coach of Millersville University
Recruited Len Bias from Northwestern High School
Len was good high school player, but he was not a mega, mega star like some other guys. Adrian Dantley, for example, when he was sophomore at DeMatha, he was already a superstar.
I thought he would be a good player, he was a little bit thin in high school But he got thicker with weights and became The Man. I thought he was just a bubbly person. I got a chance to get close with his mother and father. They came to every game; they were close and wanted to see him play.
The morning it happened, I was on my way to [Millersville University basketball camp, where Kochan was head coach], and Lenny was supposed to speak two days after that. I was totally shocked. I called his mother and asked how she was doing and what was going on. I was beside myself and obviously watched everything unfold in terms of what fell down as a result. It was a sad, sad time in the history of Maryland and the life of that family.
I had no clue that something like that was going to happen. Do I ever think he did it before? Absolutely no. What actually happened, I’ll never know, I never suspected anything, there was never a sign, never an indication that he was into drugs.
I saw a tragic accident and it made me realize that life is even more fragile than you think and mistakes can cost you dearly. What a waste.
NBA Analyst, Turner Sports
(from comments made on air, provided by Turner Sports public relations)
“I played against Len Bias in the ACC and he was a unique power forward/small forward because he was a guy who could play with his back to the basket and he had a body by Adonis, so to speak, he looked like he was sculpted. He also had this great athleticism with a soft touch. To put him with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, you would think that his career would have been a 15-20 year career, NBA All-Stars, NBA All-Star games and probably one of the greatest players that ever played this game if he had an opportunity to do it. I thought it made a profound effect on everyone’s idea and their thought process about drugs. In all of this tragedy, this was still a message saying you can be torn down no matter how strong (you are), how powerful you look, how great a body you have, how great a basketball player you are, if you do the wrong things, this is what happens to you.”
Former Public Relations Director, Advantage International
Agency that represented Len Bias
For me it was more of a professional situation than personal. He was probably our firm’s most significant basketball signing from a recruiting standpoint. We had good basketball clients, we had Moses Malone, Sam Perkins, Bobby Jones and many others, but Bias was local and he had a tremendous amount of marketing and PR potential.
He was going to be the flagship player for Reebok and a star, everyone knew it. That Thursday morning, the day after his Boston Celtics press conference, was going to be a busy day. I came in to our office in Georgetown earlier than I normally do, at around 8 a.m. Before I even got off the elevator I could hear the phone ringing and ringing. I unlocked the door, no one was there yet, and picked up the phone at the front desk. And in a low, southern drawl I hear this voice in a state of panic. It was Lefty Driesell and he said, ‘I need to speak to Lee Fentress. (Fentress was Len Bias’ agent). It's an emergency.'
Lee wasn’t in yet so I just waited at the door for him. He arrived 10 or 15 minutes later. I told him Lefty is calling in a panic, but I didn’t know what was going on yet. A few minutes later Lee called me into his office and said ‘something’s happened to Bias. He might be dead. It was his heart. You need to go with [Bias’s client manager Bill Shelton] over to the Bias house and help the family deal with the media.’
I’m 26 years old at the time … it was just surreal. Bill and I are driving over there and we are about to be with a family whose child was going to be their star … and we are going to be sitting with them and their entire life has been turned beyond upside down.
When we drive up, there were literally hundreds of media camped out on their front lawn, picnic blankets, food, and all.
I got a call from my friend Mike Howe with the news. I figured the call was to discuss the day's lawn mowing activities, or to rehash the weekend escapades. When he told me the news, my reaction was 100 percent certainty that he was joking – and it was not funny. Then he said it again, and I knew it was real. I sunk to the bed. I remember I was in my brother’s room and I can still feel that raw gnawing in the pit of my stomach to this day. It was over. The rest of the day was a daze, just trying to go about my business, make some sense of it all.
I had to do something, so another friend and I went to his dad's tool shed and made a huge banner out of a king-sized sheet, black paint and two wooden pikes, it simply read "34".
We took it up to Westmoreland Circle at Massachusetts and Western, and held it up for hours in the June sun as rush hour motorists rolled from Maryland into the District. Some honked, some shouted out, a few stopped to say thank you, and amazingly to us, many drove past totally indifferent or uncomprehending. I am not really sure why we did it or what we hoped to accomplish, but it felt good to do something, to let the world know that we were carrying the banner of our fallen hero.
Owings Mills, Md.
At the time, I was living in Leonardtown and the basketball team was in the building next to us. Bryan Palmer had just gotten kicked off the team and was now one of our roommates. I was somewhat friendly with Keith Gaitlin (who wasn’t). There were nights where basketball games or shoot-arounds would just happen on the Leonardtown Courts and Bias would drain shot, after shot, after shot. The further back he’d go, the more automatic he’d become. Watching him in a game was one thing, on a playground was ridiculous. He’d take on all comers for 1-on-1 or just a game of Horse and flash that big grin of his and then destroy anyone who’d challenge him, from a teammate or some frat guy who thought he could take LB.
The day he died, I was taking a summer class and this guy I knew, Mitch from New Jersey, came in and told me the news. I told him that wasn’t remotely funny. After class, I was walking back to the frat house and the sounds were different, it was quieter on campus. As I got near the Chapel, I could see news trucks down to Route 1, police cars starting to direct traffic and everything was immediately different. I saw a girl standing near the Chapel in absolute tears and I walked up to her and just gave her a hug. One of the news stations, DC Channel 7 I think, faded to black that night with that picture of that hug.
Twenty years later – I am no different than any other Maryland fan from that era. I always wonder what would have been; would the Bulls have won all those titles? Would Jordan or Bias have been the MVP of the league and leading scorer? I see a great college player and tell my sons, “so and so may be good, but he is no Lenny Bias. Have I ever told you about Len Bias?”
Editor, Baltimore Business Journal
University of Maryland graduate
I was living in Baltimore working as an intern on the Sun's copy desk the summer Len Bias died. My friend Elena and I subletted a dumpy house in Waverly from a couple Hopkins students. I remember running to answer the phone early one morning. It was my father calling from Philadelphia. He told me Len Bias died from a cocaine overdose. I couldn't believe it. Minutes later someone from the now-defunct Evening Sun called me. They were looking for Maryland students to interview before their deadline. I gave the reporter a few quotes about how sad it was. My quotes were suddenly sent across the U.S. in the first AP stories about his death. A friend from out-of-state called me to tell me they saw my quotes in a Maine newspaper.
Anyway, Lenny was a big part of my college life. Watching him play was incredible. But he was a big deal off the court too. He was definitely a celebrity on campus. He was always surrounded by women. He lived in the New Leonardtown campus apartments where I lived. I saw him often walking around or in the student union lounge.
His death completely devastated the campus. My senior year was consumed by the aftermath of his death. News crews were always on campus. Nightline even did a show from campus. Lefty Driesell resigned. The athletic department was in turmoil. I covered some of the developments as a stringer for the Evening Sun. I mostly remember the vigil Lonise Bias, Len's mother held on the campus mall. The mental picture of her holding a candle and trying to be so stoic has always stayed with me. It was a few years later that she lost her second son, Jay. I always wondered how she held it together.
1987 University of Maryland graduate
I was in Cole Field House when Lefty Driesell first spoke about the incident and I was about two feet away when he said ‘Lenny, I love you and I’ll miss you and I will see you again someday.’
The next day I also went to the wake and it was an eerie, eerie thing walking past Ben Coleman and Herman Veal and then seeing Len Bias dead in his casket. It was a feeling of complete amazement and disbelief that this incredible athlete was no longer with us. It was a surreal feeling and it’s hard to put into words and something that I will remember the rest of my life. You can’t forget about it.
To me, he was the greatest athlete I ever saw. I can remember Keith Gatlin flipping the ball up toward the rim and you’d see five or six hand go up but one would rise above and catch it and it was his, it was Len Bias.
1986 Maryland graduate
I graduated from Maryland that year and worked as an intern with the sports marketing department. I was involved in helping coordinate private workouts for Lenny with NBA teams and making sure that the Celtics were set up when they came in. When Reebok came in, I was able to sit in the room with faculty when they were negotiating the deal.
I was out of town when it happened. Some friends and I traveled from June 1st to 19th to Las Vegas and Tahoe for a trip after graduation. I actually won $500 on a bet in Vegas that Bias would be taken second overall by the Celtics. I guess I had some inside information there, but you never know what’s going to happen.
That morning (the morning of June 19th), we were sitting in the airport in Lake Tahoe, getting ready to fly home and go to a party in College Park. We called home and all of a sudden it’s, “did you hear the news?”
Our jaws dropped.
We walked around … me and three other guys … we walked around like zombies for three and a half hours at the airport and missed our flight because we were numb. We didn’t know what to do.
When we came back into town, everyone was in absolute disbelief. It was almost like we were mourning someone in our family. We went back to the fraternity house and you gave each other hugs because we lost someone who was close to us.
I was at my summer job orientation at Winands Elementary school in Randallstown. A guy named Ron Kiewe walked in and said Len Bias died. I didn't believe him. I lived about a half mile from Winands. I sprinted home at lunch time to see my brother crying on the chair in front of the TV. I cried most of that day and the next day. I felt like a family member died. He's still the greatest basketball player I've ever seen.
In 1986, I lived in Akron, Ohio and followed Big 10 basketball. I remember knowing who Len Bias was when he died, but I was not that familiar with him. In 1986, Johnny Dawkins and the Duke Blue Devils got all the national coverage. At the time, I could tell you any stat on JD that you wanted to know. Sadly, I knew very little about Lenny because I lived in the Midwest and Maryland was not the No. 1 team. I was actually more affected by what happened nine days after Lenny passed away. The Cleveland Browns soon to be All-Galaxy safety, Don Rogers, died of a similar cocaine overdose during his bachelor party. This guy could hit like Ronny Lott and would have been an absolute beast for a long time to come. He was the 1984 AFC defensive rookie of the year and on his way to greatness. He might have been inducted into Canton by now, an easy trip to make from Cleveland. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years. It’s harder to believe that 9 days was not long enough for someone to reflect on the fatal mistake of another.
There are four moments in my life that I remember exactly where I was when I heard "the news":apartment
1. The Challenger Explosion - 6th grade math class
2. The OJ Bronco Chase - sitting around a keg in the backyard of our college
3. 9/11 - At my client's office in Atlanta
4. Len Bias' death – my friend Marc Butt's house.
I was only 11 and I had spent the night at Marc's house with a couple other friends from Middle School. We probably played video games on the Commodore 64 all night. The next morning, Marc's Dad called us to the TV and I just stared at images of Bias' exploits. My heart sank. I couldn't believe it. As a kid, I idolized Eddie Murray and Lenny Bias. That was it. None of it made sense. He was wearing a Celtics hat yesterday!
The ensuing days were really hard. I was only 11, so I didn't understand what was happening, but the University just seemed to get dragged through the mud. Things kept getting worse. As for Bias, in my eyes, he is the single biggest could-have-been, never-was in the history of sports.
I saw Lenny the night he died. We were in Town Hall drinking beer and shooting pool and Lenny came in. He was wearing his Celtics hat and we chatted for a little while. He was with a couple of guys and after they had a beer, they went into the liquor side of store and bought some stuff and left. He came back through the bar side and waived to everybody and the rest is history.
I lived in a dorm near Cole Field House and went over and watched practice quite a bit. Lenny was truly an amazing player.
Do I remember where I was? Sure. Was it devastating at the time? Sure. Was it a tragedy? Absolutely.
But as is often the case, the fact that he died young (see Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, etc.), has built his legend to a degree that it probably doesn't warrant.
He was a great talent of course, but one of the top five to play in the ACC as Dick Vitale says and everyone wants to believe? He's not even the best college player to play at Maryland. Albert King was a better college player than Bias, but fortunately (or unfortunately) he lived on to a mediocre NBA career. John Lucas was the first pick in the draft - as a 6-1 point guard!
One thing it did do though is scare the #!#$0 out of me that one use of drugs could kill you. That is some scary shit.
I can vividly remember exactly where I was when I got the news about Len Bias. I had just finished my sophomore year of high school year so I was asleep and my uncle called me and broke the news like Lenny was a member of my family. I was only 15 and could not really comprehend what had happened.
We lost a player who most people in this state thought was already a legend. Just a year before, I had been at Millersville University Basketball Camp in Pennsylvania and Len came up to talk to the campers and put on a dunk show. I sat 10 feet from him.
The man was a beast, he seem invincible. One of my friends asked him what his vertical leap was and I remember Lenny said, “I’m not sure, I am working on touching the top of the backboard.”
I will never forget the foul line jumper that he hit in the NCAA tournament for the Terps to win … or the steal that he made followed by a reverse dunk against North Carolina.
I think everybody in the state who follows sports knows that the drug dealer involved was Brian Tribble. It is very rare for a drug dealer’s name from 20 years ago to roll off my tongue without hesitation.
With Lenny we will never know … could he have been Jordan’s rival?
I was in attendance at the last Maryland game that Bias played-in for the Terps.
Location: Long Beach Arena (Convention Center or the like.)
Venue: NCAA Tourney
Winner goes to Sweet 16
However, after Maryland beat Pepperdine, the place was packed with SoCal basketball fans taking the day-off or playing hookie from work to catch a glimpse of Bias. After what I remember being a lackluster half and Maryland down by 9, 10 or 11...Bias came out in the 2nd half and literally took-on the entire UNLV starting 5 and tied the game in the first 5 minutes of the 2nd half. Patented base line jumper, steals, slams, steals, slams and patented base line jumper. (At least that is the way I remember it.)
The thing that stuck out was the manner the fans were in awe of Bias. They spoke to us like we were unbelievably fortunate to root for a team that had a talent like Bias. And, we were!!!! The best part was that we never took his talent for granted. Unfortunately Lenny did......
I spent my junior year of college studying at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, spending the school year very far from Davidson College (where incidentally Lefty Driesell coached with great success before coming to Maryland).
When the spring semester was over, I took advantage of the chance to do some traveling. On a very cold and wet night I found myself in a small town somewhere in the southern coast of England. As the rain beat down, I huddled inside a distinctly English red telephone booth to call a friend back home in Baltimore.
Halfway through the phone call he told that Len Bias had died of an overdose. The police were investigating. I was stunned. I was about the same age as Bias and could not believe that someone so young, so strong and so healthy, could perish.
I walked out into the rain completely alone. There was no one I could talk to. There was no one who could understand my confusion and yes, my pain. No one in England knew who Len Bias was, or why he mattered.
There was on one who would understand that I became a Maryland fan in earnest on the night my parents took me to Cole Field House in 1983 and we sat behind the Maryland band playing "Amen!" as the Terps trounced the number one UNC Tar Heels with some skinny kid named Jordan. Imagine that! Seeing Michael Jordan and Len Bias on the same court together. It remains a favorite sports memory. One I much prefer to the night I walked around in the cold, English rain trying to come to terms with the news that we are all, indeed, mortal.
One thing I wrestled with as I walked around that night was how someone could have killed such a gentle soul such as as Len Bias. Immediately upon hearing the news I was willing to buy into the conspiracy theory and exonerate Lenny from having a hand in his own demise.
When I got home several months later I realized that Lenny had killed Lenny. Someone gave him the drug, but he is the one who ingested it. He had made a bad mistake and paid a great price. I still think how magnificent he would have looked on the parquet at the Boston Garden playing with Larry Bird. It is a shame that Lenny denied himself that experience.
Len Bias was a GREAT player. And this was just as college hoops was exploding beyond its real die hard fans to become the nationwide phenomenon that it is now. Len Bias was as exciting and dynamic a college player as I have ever seen.. You could tell he had fun on the floor. He possessed an almost a larger-than-life persona. His senior year he was doing things on the floor that #23 hadn't even done yet.
I will never forget where I was – I was working in the mail room of an association and had my radio on. This was before the days of all-sports radio and they cut into the WMAL morning show to make the announcement. I listened in disbelief, hoping and praying that I heard something wrong. At first we did not know that it was drugs, though perhaps we suspected – we were kind of hoping against hope that it was something else.
Anyway, my friend Jimmy and I went to the memorial service at Cole. Bias was our favorite player of all time and it was incredibly sad. As far as long-term effects go, let me just say this: drugs, especially coke was, believe it or not considered fairly benign back then. It wasn't unusual to see people, our peer group of young professionals, doing it in bars and out in public.
After Len Bias died, it was like a switch was turned off, it was no longer socially acceptable to do anymore, it was just stupid and pathetic. I think the mind set was “if Bias could die doing that in the great shape he is in, why would anyone take that kind of chance?” I personally know many people who never did any drugs after that event. I like to think that if anything positive could be gained out of such a tragic experience, it was that. Maybe that is his legacy.
I remember where I was when I heard: working a summer job landscaping. Of course, I had no attachment to Maryland at the time (I lived in Boston). I was a Celtics fan back then. (today I couldn't name the starting 5.) My initial reaction was "tough break" but the Celtics have always been good and would get through it. Of course, 1986 was their last championship.
I graduated high school in '80 from WT Woodson (Pete Holbert and Tommy Amaker's school), then graduated from AU in '85. My favorite teams were Maryland and Georgetown. I loved the Buck Williams / Albert King / Ernie Graham Terps as well as the Patrick Ewing / Sleepy Floyd Hoyas.
But my favorite all-time college basketball player was #34, Lenny Bias.
I first remember him as a freshman ... he was raw, athletic and powerful. I so vividly remember that jump shot from the foul line during the latter part of his freshman year. I don't recall the opponent, but I remember he hit a game-winner. It showed that this kid had potential. Then, he turned in those monster years during his junior and senior years. I recall that beautiful stroke from the baseline as well as those powerful dunks, with his legs splayed open. He was cocky, but he was so good. And, he had fun playing the game.
During his last home game, a couple of good friends and I went to watch the Terps' game at RJ Bentley's in College Park. I remember one of my friends said that we had to drink a shot every time Lenny made a shot. Well, no one can drink that much -- after all, Lenny was draining jumper after jumper.
I still recall how the Duke fans were in awe of Lenny during his last game at Cameroon Indoor Stadium - they even applauded his greatness. And, who can forget that magical game he had against UNC his junior year?
I was happy for Len that he was chosen by the Celtics. After all, he would get to play w/ one of the all-time greats, Larry Bird. Wow, what a combination they would have been.
On June 19, 1986, I was visiting one of my closest friends near Princeton, New Jersey. I was scheduled to drive home that day. That was the day I got the phone call that Lenny had overdosed and died. I was in shock. "Not Len Bias!" were my first thoughts. No friggin' way. NOT LENNY BIAS. I was crushed. Devastated.
To pay homage to the Bias family, another one of my best friends and I went to Cole Field House for the memorial service. We were moved to tears as Coach Driesell asked the crowd to give Lenny one more standing ovation. I recall how hot it was in Cole that day. Brutally hot. But, we had a hole in our hearts as we sat there in disbelief ... not wanting to believe that Len Bias was no longer alive.
I still can't believe the strength Mrs Bias showed on that day. What a remarkable woman. And, to have to do it a second time with the passing of Jay Bias is almost too cruel.
I was in my first year of grad school in '86. I know that a number of friends had experimented socially with recreational drugs at that time. But, after Lenny's death, most of them stopped. Because, if it could kill our hero, Lenny Bias, it could kill anyone.
I remember it well. It made me forever terrified that if I did coke just once, my heart would explode too.