More than a quarter century has passed since Len Bias died after consuming large amounts of cocaine on June 19, 1986, two days after the Boston Celtics made him the number two pick in the NBA draft. As I learned while working on my book, Born Ready: The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias, it is difficult to forget Len’s story and what his death has meant to many people. During this time of year, as talk of Len’s death surfaces, here’s a look back at the most defining moments of his legacy.
Capital Classic MVP
As a senior at Northwestern High School, Bias along with Johnny Dawkins earned co-MVP honors of the 1982 Capital Classic All Star game. His 18 points and 11 rebounds helped the Capital All-Stars beat the U.S. All-Stars 82-79.
NCAA tournament game winner
Bias hit a 17-foot jump shot with two seconds remaining that helped unranked Maryland upset 15th-ranked Tennessee-Chattanooga by one point in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Bias started 13 games as a freshman, averaging 7.1 points per game, the best of all Terps freshman.
Bias tops Jordan in College Park
In the only game Bias faced Michael Jordan head to head in College Park as a starter, Bias, a sophomore, outscored Jordan 24-21. Still, top-ranked North Carolina beat the fifth-ranked Terps, 74-62.
1984 ACC tournament heroics
Bias was the second leading scorer on the team (15.2) and was third in rebounds (4.5) but was not named to the All-ACC team during his sophomore year in 1984 after Maryland finished 9-5 in the conference. The snub prompted him to predict he would be MVP of the ACC tournament. He scored 15 points in each of the first two games, and then 26 against Duke to win the tournament. He was named MVP
Bias shuts down Robinson in NCAA tournament
When Maryland faced the Naval Academy in an NCAA second round game in 1985, their main concern was containing All-America center David Robinson. Bias, a junior, led Maryland with 20 points in the 64-59 win, and he shut down Robinson in the second half. Coach Lefty Driesell assigned him to defend the 6-foot, 11-inch Robinson with Navy leading by 11 points. Robinson scored his last basket of the game – with more than 16 minutes remaining.
Bias leads Terps over UNC in Dean Dome
Bias scored 35 points as Maryland handed North Carolina its first loss at their new area, the Dean Smith Center. But it was his late game heroics that made it Bias’s marquee game. With Maryland down by nine and just under three minutes remaining, Bias hit a medium-range jumper, then converted a dunk after stealing the inbounds pass. With Maryland ahead by one and about 15 seconds left in overtime, he blocked a driving jump shot in the lane by Kenny Smith. “God was with us tonight and God means Len Bias,” Maryland guard Keith Gatlin said after the game.
Celtics draft Bias no. 2 in 1986
The Celtics, the most successful franchise in NBA history, won three NBA titles in the 1980s and were the defending NBA champs. After Bias died, they reached the 1987 NBA finals, but did not reach the finals again until 2008. The 1990s were their worst decade in history.
Bias’s death disrupts Maryland athletics
Basketball coach Lefty Driesell, football coach Bobby Ross and athletic director Dick Dull left the school within six month of his death; Driesell’s successor, Bob Wade, commits violations that place the basketball team on probation; in 1990 several sports lost scholarships in a restructuring due to revenue shortfalls.
Bias death impacts drug culture and perception
Congress passed the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which established disparities in mandatory minimum sentences for crack and powder cocaine offenses, sending a disproportionate number of young black men to prison. It also authorized $241 million for the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of drug and alcohol addicts and created the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act. Many people, including future Maryland star Keith Booth, use Bias’ death as a traffic light to never use drugs.
Lonise Bias becomes national speaker
On December 3, 1986, Lonise Bias spoke on the Maryland campus about the impact of Len’s death. By that time, she had already made some 60 speeches. Bias still speaks to schools, churches and other groups today and has earned up to $10,000 a speech. Part of her message is improving self-esteem among young people.