The second part of our Lost Ones series is focused around a college superstar who, unlike Benji Wilson, died of something personally inflicted. It’s always tragic to hear about someone who would’ve been if not for falling victim to the cruel realities of the off the court world. Unlike Ben Wilson, Len Bias was already proven against elite talent during his collegiate career, even against the greatest himself Michael Jordan.
by Jayden Taylor
Len Bias left an unprecedented legacy in basketball without even playing a single NBA game. A rarity at that time, he was a 6’8 athletic freak that left NBA scouts salivating for his talent. His achievements were also cordial with his reputation as he was a two-time All-American team selection, a back-to-back ACC player of the year winner, and ACC athlete of the year, boasting one of the greatest college careers ever.
Everything seemed destined to fall in place for him, much alike his ACC counterpart Michael Jordan, and an epic rivalry with him would’ve been guaranteed to be in the books. Just as Jordan was emerging as a superstar in the NBA, Bias was destined to take over the Boston Celtics to continue their relevance after the inevitable eclipse of the Larry Bird era. It was also a unanimous consensus that he was the greatest player ever to not play at the professional level. All this hype and talk was backed up as it was well-documented that he was at the top of the collegiate mountain in his time, upending modern legends and future Hall of Famers David Robinson and Michael Jordan.
Len Bias was born in November 18th 1963 spending his childhood ironically nicknamed ‘Frosty’ due to his cool demeanour. He came from an admirable and humble background as one of four children from a working class household in his hometown of Landover. He also represented Prince George’s county which is also one of the first and vital majority African-American municipalities in America. PG County, like Len Bias, was a booming and full of potential as it is the only municipality in the country at that time that went from majority white to majority black while also rising in per capita income and education. Len Bias was poised to rep his roots to the world, and he told everyone that he would be bringing them along for the ride.
Bias was a basketball prodigy and his physical features and playing style was indubitably NBA bound. As a 6’8 stud blessed with seemingly unrivalled athleticism along with a consistent jump shot, Bias was seemingly a man amongst boys wherever he played.
He graduated from North Western High School, and also like Jordan, he attended his native college in Maryland, ten minutes away from his high school. Len was indeed slowly becoming a local legend and the following events in his life eventually etched him in Maryland folklore.
In basketball, Len could be considered a late bloomer as it took him two years in college to fully unlock his untapped potential bred from his raw athleticism. Once he eventually mastered his athleticism and the fundamentals of the game, he started terrorising teams as one of the most dominant individuals in college basketball history, which left fans and basketball enthusiasts alike salivating the thought of Len Bias in the NBA. After his outstanding junior year, he led the ACC in scoring while also being named ACC player of the year. The next term in his senior season, he would retain his ACC player of the year accolade. In the process of this dominant senior season, the basketball world watched Bias express his claim as the best player in the country with a 35 point output against Michael Jordan’s Tar Heels. After the North Carolina game, there was now no doubting his legitimacy and this performance sent a warning shot to the NBA and the rest of the world of his looming takeover.
A dream come true
June 17th, after a glistening collegiate career, the college phenomenon was drafted with the second overall pick to the Boston Celtics. This pick was destined to shake up the basketball world as arguably the biggest college prospect in a long time would be another weapon in an already stacked Boston Celtics team, who also happened to be the reigning world champions. This is all the more a reason why his death is one of the biggest “what if’s” in basketball history. As obvious as a basketball superstar could be, he would also be gaining tutelage from one of the game’s all-time greats in Larry Bird and the rest of the Celtic’s veterans from an already historically great team. This mere prospect of a partnership between one of the rawest athletes basketball has ever had and one of the most skilled and competitive players ever, is a monumental and salivating one that never came to fruition. If it all didn’t go wrong, he would’ve indubitably peer-rivalled Michael Jordan.
June 19th, the dream ends. It was documented that Bias had spent the whole night abusing the new fad that is cocaine. Like a child with a shiny new toy, Len went crazy with it.
At 6:32 AM, after an all-nighter with his new favourite thing in the world, Len collapsed due to seizures from an overdose. After having spent a few hours in Leland Memorial Hospital’s emergency department, Len ended up losing the final one on one game he would play.
Len had a bigger impact than he ever would have thought of having with his ultimate legacy transcending basketball. He changed America forever. After his death, the Anti-Drug-Abuse Act of 1986 was upheld, prosecuting drug dealers, and making them accountable and potentially convicted for the death of users in which they supplied drugs to. The act would be later directly synonymous with the tragedy that is Len Bias.
Everyone loved Len Bias. He had that extraordinary charisma that was addictive to watch. He was also a showman on the court as he knew how to get an audience going with his antics on the basketball court. Whether it’s his arena-shaking dunks or his flashes of freakish athleticism and strength, Len would’ve no doubt sold out arenas if he ever made it to the NBA. He was also a womanizer at heart, and wasn’t afraid to pursue what he feels like he deserved. His death dreadfully resounded nationwide leaving thousands on the brink of tears during his passing. A man who represented peak physical stature; fuelled with a great personality as great as his skills on the court. It was something unheard of then. Recalling his death to this day still ha the power to make grown adults feel numb.
Len may not have had his chance to change the NBA, but he had an unparalleled legacy that mattered in a whole different scale. 11’000 people came to Len’s funeral, and shortly after his death, a political fightback in the USA arose.
The structure behind the US had to respond to the national outcry of the public. This became bigger than Len and basketball as it addressed a nationwide issue. Crimes involved with drugs were taken seriously with drug-related incarcerations were met with tougher sentences and harsher fines.
Len was essentially served as an American martyr as he was a catalyst for an all-out “Total war on drugs in USA”. We had to lose the next great basketball superstar for drugs to be taken seriously. Never in the history of sports has so much potential been extinguished with the such swift cruelty.