Twenty years ago this morning, University of Maryland all-American Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose (The Post). It was one of the most shocking events of the 1980s in Greater Washington, not too mention all of sports. Bias, a Landover native, was a juggernaut on the basketball court who had dominated the ACC like no other, save Michael Jordan — maybe. Having everything to live for — he was drafted by the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics — Bias threw it all away.
In the aftermath, UMd athletics was in shambles. Coach Lefty Drisell was forced out (The Post) and further scandals would kick the Terps off live television for a season. It would take over a decade for Maryland to become a force in ACC basketball again and in 2002 they won the NCAA championship. The Celtics, who were expected to extend their dynasty into the 90s with Bias, have yet to win another championship. Bias’ mother, Lonise, convinced that her son did not die in vain (USA Today), has spent the last twenty years speaking out about drug awareness and parental responsibility. Statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse lend credence to her theory. I saw her speak during my senior year of high school. By then she had buried another son, Jay, who was shot to death (The Post) over a trivial matter in 1990.
To this day, there are still questions as to whether Bias was a regular cocaine user or tried it only once. I have heard rumors that it was an open secret in ’86 that Bias used coke, though that could revisionist history since up until his death, Bias passed every drug test. The late Jack McMahon, chief scout of the Philadelphia 76ers, who had the first pick in the 1986 draft, said `There’s just something about him I don’t like.’ McMahon never elaborated on that before he died in the late ’80s.
In the end, Bias leaves competing legacies — “oh what might have been” and cautionary tale. His mother thinks it is the latter.
Bias Death Still Ripples Through Athletes’ Academic Lives – The Post
Michael Wilbon: The Story of Bias’s Death Should Always Have Life – The Post
For many, Bias’ death still resonates – The Wash. Times
Rick Snider: Where has the time gone? – The Wash. Examiner
Remembering Len Bias – The Gazette
The Death of Len Bias – A Post section from 1996
David Steele: Memory of shock, emptiness still fresh 20 years later – The Baltimore Sun
Len Bias: 20 years later – The Baltimore Sun
Unforgettable anniversary – The Boston Globe
What might have been – The Boston Globe
Lonise Bias biography from Keppler Speakers