June 19, 2013. Len Bias. The name touched sports fans everywhere. Most likely, one way or another, you'll end up hearing Len Bias' name. Whether it be the way he grew from that "raw, undisciplined" kid in 1982 to maybe the best player in the country in 1986, the way he captivated the hearts of Maryland fans forever, or whether it be his tragic fall from grace and death from cocaine overdose. Len Bias means something. Len Bias taught us something. Len Bias speaks to all of us. But one thing I don't think we've ever thought about is what Len Bias' did after he died. What Len Bias' taught people. His importance. Ask anyone the most important athlete of the 20th century. Jordan, Ruth, Gehrig, Jackson, Ali, Pele. What do I say? Len Bias. Ask anyone the most influential athlete of the last 25 years. I say Len Bias.
To quantify how big Len Bias was is too difficult. The man was larger than life. And this is what makes Len Bias so important. What makes his impact stand to this day. Len Bias came to Maryland as a kid. A talent, but a kid. Len Bias got better. And better. In 1985, he's a consensus All-American. In 1986 he's taking Maryland back to the top. Len Bias changed Maryland Athletics for both good and bad, forever. Len Bias was an All-American. Len Bias was dominating. He was unstoppable. He was ACC Player of the Year. Celtics Scout Ed Badger called him the closest thing to Michael Jordan. Len Bias had done it all. But there was that moment missing. That one that still to this day signifies him as a basketball player. When Len Bias could do no wrong. February 20, 1986. When #1 North Carolina, Dean Smith, and Chapel Hill, beckoned at his feet. The Len Bias game.
February 20, 1986. Maryland wasn't better than North Carolina. North Carolina was royalty. They hadn't lost in the DeanDome. They had Brad Daughtery who would go on to be the #1 pick. They had lost 1 game. Maryland was 14-11. Maryland fans had one reason to watch this game: Len Bias. Carolina was up 11 late in the half. Maryland was falling away. And bang. Bias. Dunks an Alley-oop. Fouled on a pump fake and knocks down the free throws. Buries a baseline jumper while being double teamed. And the lead is 5. Bias has 17 points. Maryland would fall away, get back into it, and fall away. 3 minutes left. Carolina leads 68-59. Bias had 27 but it wasn't enough. Time was ticking down. The game slipping away. Fans would turn off their radios. And then, something magical.
You could watch the moment on YouTube. It's there. ACC probably shows it as one of their "classic games". But for the people who did listen in 1986, the moment was never better. Len Bias ripples the net with a smooth J. Steals the inbound pass. And then throws it down. But while he hangs in mid air, the dunk was a reverse, he hangs as if his arms are in a cross. For a brief moment, Len Bias is god in a basketball jersey. For a moment, Len Bias was blessed. It was as if, on the way down, he was telling the basketball world what he was going to be. Len Bias was going to be something else. Len Bias had the nation at his feet. Next step: It just gets bigger.
June 17, 1986. The Felt Forum. New York City, New York. The Boston Celtics are making their pick. The NBA's great dynasty was going to add another talent. Someone who would carry on that legacy. Len Bias. Len Bias had the hopes of a fanbase on his shoulders. Len Bias had the Celtic Empire at his feet. He had been christened to be the next one. He takes that green Celtic hat, puts it on his head, and smiles as if he was a little kid. He made it. Everything was in front of him. Green. Green everywhere. Celtic Green, money green. Is that the color you think of when you think of Len Bias. Or is it red? The color the Terrapin uniform he wore with such grace and dominance. Or is it white? That white pile of cocaine on that desk he would stick his face into, and send everything crashing down. Sadly, this is what Len Bias' legacy might be. It wouldn't be Celtic Green. Or dollar bills green. Or the red of Maryland. It's white. But that white, hasn't signified everything wrong. It's become more. It's become a symbol. A symbol of what not to do. Len Bias made it so.
June 19, 1986. Len Bias had the world at his feet. He was living carefree. Fame, money, women, playing the game he loved, for fun. He had it all. Len Bias was invincible. In the wee hours of that morning, he didn't think anything could touch him. So there sat that cocaine. On that table. What could it do to him? Brian Trimble, Terry Long, and David Gregg thought nothing. Len Bias didn't either. The innocence of youth for that moment took over. He had the world at his feet. And he made that choice. The choice that tragically took his life. The world was snatched away. In an instant. But it was this moment. Where Len Bias life was taken. But many others were given back. Where many others took heed. This is where Lenny's legacy is made.
Jordan and Ruth impacted sports. They inspired. Len Bias saved lives. Cocaine wasn't cool anymore after Lenny died. If Len Bias could die, why can't I? Bomani Jones wrote a while back that his older brother told him of how cocaine was so prevalent when he was in High School. Now? It isn't as prevalent. People realized what it could do. Because of Lenny. Because if someone invincible like Len Bias who was almost a superhuman like force could die from it, what about us? Len Bias mother Lonise has said countless people have come up to her and said they stopped snorting blow when Lenny died. He may have done enough cocaine to kill 2 or 3 normal guys but at that time, Len Bias wasn't normal. He had the body of a greek god. His legs were powerful before weight training was prevalent in basketball. He was so smooth and played with such grace yet he was so powerful. Len Bias was something else. When Len died, the world took notice. If he can die, we can too. Jordan was great. Ruth was too. Gehrig's story is powerful. Ali might of changed the world. But Len Bias saved lives. Len Bias is the most influential athlete of the 20th century. Of the last 25 years. Len Bias is the most influential athlete ever.
He may have died in disgrace. But Rest in Peace Len Bias. Your legacy and impact deserve nothing less.
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