News Update


Len Bias, an NBA draft prospect whose overdose transformed America,

Len Bias, a basketball player, had spent his entire young life anticipating this day. He was seated next to his father in a room filled with anticipation and anxiety while wearing an all-white suit.

Bias was 22 years old in 1986, the year of the NBA draft. He was 15st (95kg) and 6ft 8in tall. Analysts had already dubbed him the top talent available, even better than the third pick in 1984, Michael Jordan.

Bias accordingly began to rise early. Second, his name was announced. He was added to the roster of the Boston Celtics, who had recently won their second NBA Championship in three years and had acquired an early pick in a trade with the Seattle Sonics two years prior.

The green Celtics cap that was put into his hand symbolized aspiration and anticipation for a team made up of seasoned champions.

He hugged his father and then made his way to the platform to shake NBA Commissioner David Stern’s hand as loud applause erupted around him.

A grainy movie provides a brief insight of how Bias had developed his reputation up to this point. He already possessed a flawless jump shot that other players spend years perfecting. He was dynamic, athletic, and destined to become a celebrity; his showreel ought to have just begun.

Instead, all we have are little clips. Bias passed away from a cocaine overdose two days after the Celtics selected him in the draft.

Basketball was shaken by his death, but the effects were felt for years in America’s streets, courts, and highest offices.


Len Bias slaps hands with KC Jones, the Boston Celtics’ head coach, after he has led his team to its second NBA championship in three years.
Len Bias slaps hands with KC Jones, the Boston Celtics’ head coach, after he has led his team to its second NBA championship in three years.
Unnoticed by the defense, bias drifts wide and calls for the ball. Jeff Adkins, a member of his squad, notices him and floats the ball in his direction. Brad Daugherty, a future NBA all-star and one of North Carolina’s best, is underneath it. But Bias, a freshman nonetheless, is too powerful and explosive. In a one, fluid motion, Bias flies above Daugherty, grabs the ball, and burys it through the hoop.

Bias “defied physics by hanging in the air for about three seconds, then unleashing a 20-megaton dunk that sent the overflow crowd rocking in ecstasy,” according to the Washington Post journalist watching from the stands.

It is possibly the most enduring part of Bias’ most enduring game. When Bias, a Maryland University player, faced off against the University of North Carolina and their own sensation, Jordan, it was in February 1983.

Bias, a 19-year-old in his first season on the team, cut a more impressive figure than Jordan, who was smaller and less athletic. Bias also had the potential to be a more powerful force on the floor.

Jordan had already earned his celebrity status. When North Carolina secured a stunning national championship triumph the year before, he had made the game-winning shot. Contrarily, bias was just a freshman. But it became evident that Bias would cause Jordan problems as Maryland won 106–94.

Could this be the next rivalry for a new generation of basketball fans as the era of Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson came to an end? Unbeknownst to the audience, Jordan and Bias would never get another opportunity to face off against each other on a professional stage.

Michael Jordan and Len Bias both competed for the University of North Carolina and University of Maryland, respectively.
During their collegiate years, Len Bias and Michael Jordan square off at Maryland and North Carolina, respectively.
Leonard Kevin Bias was one of four brothers who all attended the same elementary school, theatre school, and high school. He was born on November 18, 1963, in Landover, Maryland, a tiny town outside of Washington, DC.

According to Bias’ mother, Dr. Lonise Bias, “He loved creativity and could see the beauty in things that most people couldn’t.”

He had the eye for putting things together and he was always fastidious about his look. He enjoyed interior design when he was in college.

“He was the kind of person who sought perfection and didn’t accept halfway measures. Order pleased him. He was able to unearth the powers he had concealed inside him as he matured.

You can see Bias’ creativity when you watch him play; he would come up with creative ways to get the ball into the basket, whether it was passing the ball to a teammate through the legs of an opponent or shifting his body in awkward positions when flying to the rim.

Around the age of 13, Bias experienced a growth spurt, which according to Dr. Bias felt like he “grew a foot overnight.”

He was a junior high school basketball player who earned the nickname “the human eraser” for his ability to block shots.

He received college offers from all around the country, but he decided to attend college in Maryland in order to be near his home and family.

Bias struggled with discipline as a freshman, focusing instead on his natural talent and balletic quickness, which led other pupils to compare him to Muhammad Ali.

In 1984, teammate Ben Coleman remarked, “You couldn’t communicate to Lenny in his freshman year. Criticism or advise would go in one ear and out the other.

But as he’s aged, it has changed, Coleman said. “Len is going to be one helluva ballplayer.”

The promise of Bias and Coleman’s prediction were both realized. Bias set a school record for points scored during his four years at Maryland with 2,149, and he twice received All-American honors, which are given to the top young players in the nation.

When playing for the University of Maryland, Len Bias makes shots.
The jump shot by Bias, which was part of an impressive college-level performance, was visually appealing and frighteningly accurate.
Teammate Keith Gatlin, who enrolled at Maryland a year after Bias, says of him, “He had a sweet jump shot.”

People would try to reach his elbow after he leaped so high, but they couldn’t since he was such a freak of nature.

“He was just a down-home, everyday man, so when they saw him, they were absolutely in amazement. His talent, though, was great.

He had no idea of his future plans but was simply eager to play and pursue a career in basketball.

A few days before traveling to New York to attend the 1986 draft at Madison Square Gardens, Gatlin had a brief encounter with Bias. The realization that Bias will eventually join the NBA overwhelmed both men.

It was a goal to play for the Celtics. A team brimming with talent, including Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, and Larry Bird to name a few.

Immediately after being selected, Bias noted in an interview, “They’re a good team. “Whether I play or not, I’m going to learn a lot from the players there. I can go there and sit on the bench.”

Bias received overjoyed hugs from family members when he and his father returned to Landover, Maryland. However, his mother was not home because she was at a business conference.

Bias made the decision to return to his college campus to celebrate. As he walked into the dormitory, Gatlin ran into him.

Gatlin describes him as “excited and really, really blessed.” “He simply grinned at the idea that he could now do what he’s always done while getting paid for it.

‘Look, I’ll see you in the morning,’ he said. I’ll see you in the morning, and we’ll go have some breakfast. I’m going to get ready to see my mum and dad, and then I’m going to go visit a girl I haven’t seen in a long.

Gatlin concurred.

The last time he saw him was just after that.

Following a memorial service at the University of Maryland, the casket of Len Bias is brought out.
In December 1990, Bias’ younger brother Jay was shot dead in a drive-by shooting while sobbing behind Len’s coffin.
Bias decided to meet up with some other pals and make a brief trip to the liquor store where they bought a six pack of beer and a bottle of cognac before returning to the dorm room next to Gatlin’s. He did not go to see his parents or visit the girl he had not seen in a while.

Brian Tribble, who had left the University of Maryland but continued to hang about campus and had gotten to know Bias through a mutual love of basketball and music, was one of the group.

Although many of those closest to Bias had no idea, it is unknown if that night was the first time he had tried cocaine.

His Maryland coach, Lefty Driesell, was questioned about Bias’ personality off the court just prior to the 1986 draft.

All I can say is that Leonard’s only vice is ice cream, Driesell retorted.

Gatlin shared the same lack of drug use.

Lenny and I have gone out together a lot, and the thing that upsets me the most is that I’ve never seen him use drugs before. Gatlin asserts, “Never.

I’ve never been able to comprehend how it was possible to ‘know’ him before learning what transpired. I doubt I’ll ever see that side of him since I never did.

The other three in the room assumed Bias had passed out from partying when he opted to lie down after drinking and doing cocaine late into the night. However, a few minutes later, he began jerking violently.

A seizure was occurring in Bias.

Tribble dialed 911 at 6:31 a.m. while inconsolable with shock and fear.

“Len Bias here. He must be brought back to life by you. Tribble, who was also under the influence, told the emergency operator, “There’s no way he can die.

Tribble kept bringing up Bias’ name, and the operator said, “It doesn’t matter what his name is.”

Soon after, the phone woke Gatlin up in the dorm next door.

He claims that his mother had a bad dream and had called to tell him about it.

“I responded, ‘Wow, well I’m pleased you phoned, I have a math class at 8am.’ She replied, ‘Are you sure everything is OK?I responded, “Yeah, I’ll check on my sister as well.”

“I realized something was wrong when I noticed Lenny on the floor when looking into the other room while heading down the hallway to contact my sister.

I just had a conversation with this individual last night, and now I see him lying on the ground. What I just witnessed is not something I wish for anyone.

“I just froze. I called his mother, woke her up, told her the wrong hospital he was being taken to because I was frantic. I woke up the rest of our team-mates, and we followed the ambulance to the hospital.”

Bias had already been declared dead by the time his parents could get to the proper hospital.

According to his mother Lonise, “I had no idea who Len was.

“I didn’t know who he was as a guy. I knew he played basketball, I knew he was my kid, and I knew he was doing well.

“I didn’t learn who he was until after he passed away.

“I didn’t know the kind of notoriety he had until he went away. People all over the world were weeping over the loss of this man. This was just my son that I love.

Michael Jordan sent flowers, Larry Bird sent cards, and Magic Johnson’s mother called. We also received flowers from the president and other personal notes from the vice president of the nation and the Senate leaders.

At a memorial event held at the University of Maryland, Len Bias’ mother Lonise displays a Boston Celtics jersey that her son never got to wear.
At a memorial event held at the University of Maryland, Len Bias’ mother Lonise displays a Boston Celtics jersey that her son never got to wear.
Cocaine, according to Maryland’s chief medical examiner, “interrupted the normal electrical control of his heartbeat, resulting in the sudden onset of seizures and cardiac arrest,” which led to Bias’ death.

That evening, Tribble was accused of providing the cocaine, but he was found not guilty.

He declared outside the courthouse, “I adore Lenny Bias and always will.

Three years later, in 1990, Tribble would be sentenced to ten years in prison for extensive cocaine trafficking.

Tribble’s conviction was one of several that occurred as a result of the larger “War on Drugs,” which dominated the agenda of several US administrations.

In the United States, the adult arrest rate for drug possession or use rose by 138% between 1980 and 2009, with the majority of the increase occurring in the first ten years of that thirty-year span.

Part of the reason for heavier punishments for lower amounts of some narcotics was Bias’ death, at his physical prime, with a future mapped out before him.

David Farber, author of War on Drugs: A History, claims that Len Bias was the man and would soon become a superstar.

“I grew up in Chicago and with Michael Jordan, but there were rumors that Jordan would be replaced. Given how talented he was, there was anxiety about Bias joining the Celtics.

“Tip O’Neill was the speaker of the House of Representatives at the time of his passing; he was aware that a mid-term election would take place in November 1986.

He was aware that many people were frightened this famous athlete and extraordinarily fit young man had succumbed to a drug overdose. O’Neill supported the Celtics and represented Boston. He did tremendously well politically by focusing on the details of Len Bias’ death.

Democratic Party leader O’Neill realized his party could not afford to appear weak on a topic that was permeating American voters’ minds.

“At the time, middle-class Americans would read Time magazine and Newsweek. At this point, they were pumping crack as the new American nightmare and had large circulations, according to Farber.

“Whites, middle-class people, or suburban youths did not use crack either. But what a fantastic “what if?’.

“Bias didn’t use crack; he overdosed on powdered cocaine, but that’s not how people at the time saw it,” the author says.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which O’Neill was instrumental in advancing, grew increasingly severe as it was debated.

According to Farber, “This bill turned into a bidding war over who could punish drug dealers and drug users more.”

“Typically, when you negotiate, Capital and Labor work out a compromise.

But in this case, there was no room for discussion; it was simply, “Shall we jail them for five years? No, let’s store them for ten years! Let’s lower the 100g of crack that lands you in jail to 50g! Why don’t you try 10g?’

Here is this superman who becomes a symbol of what drug abuse can do to the best of us, and Len Bias was at the center of it all.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act was enacted in the East Room of the White House in October 1986, little over four months after Bias’ passing.

The statute established the minimum quantities of a particular substance that would result in possession charges. The standard for crack cocaine was set at 5g. It was set at 500g for powdered cocaine, the pricier drug that had murdered Bias. In either scenario, the minimum punishment for a conviction was five years without the possibility of parole.

Additionally, it mandated a minimum 20-year term for anyone found guilty of drug trafficking that resulted in significant harm or death.

Reagan informed the media, “This legislation is not intended as a means of putting drug users in our jails.”

But that is exactly how it worked.

In 1986, there were 522,064 people incarcerated in the US. It increased to almost 1.1 million ten years later.

According to Farber, “it just started to take young people and throw them into prison in massive numbers.”

Crack was a substance that was made for poor people because it was inexpensive, it produced an extremely intense and quick high, and it was replicable again and time again. Poor areas, in especially impoverished black neighborhoods, were hit really hard.

“In the United States, we speak of a carceral state, a state based on locking people up, and that begins with the crack-cocaine hysteria,”

Nancy Reagan during a Just Say No event with kids and imaginary characters
In September 1986, First Lady Nancy Reagan attended a ‘Just Say No’ event in West Virginia.
Following Bias’ passing, two concerns arose: the first intrigued basketball fans by asking, “What if he had a chance to play in the NBA?,” and the second stoked anxiety among Americans by asking, “What if this happens to our kids?”

Lonise, Len’s mother, would be eligible for more.

Jay, Len’s younger brother, was shot and killed in a drive-by less than five years later.

But even in the face of the greatest hardship, she has found purpose.

She states, “My faith has been my strength.”

“The loss of a kid causes a pain that is a hundred times worse than anything a parent can comprehend. I’ve managed because of my worldview and my faith in Jesus Christ.

“Len and Jay, to me, were two seeds that went down into the ground to bring forth life. They weren’t buried, they were planted, to bring new knowledge and insight to another generation and inspiration to those who need it,” said the author.

Dr. Bias currently gives talks about healing, self-discovery, and the strength of community all over the world.

She only remembers Len’s eagerness when she thinks back to the last time she saw him in real life—the day before he left for New York for the draft.

She says, “He was excited, excited, excited.”

ecstatic about a future that was cruelly cut short.


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