NBA

The Tragic Story of Len Bias: The Biggest “What If” in NBA History

Unknown date & location, USA; FILE PHOTO; Maryland Terrapins guard (34) Len Bias in action during the 1985 season.
Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Len Bias was going to be the next generational superstar in the NBA. There seemed to be nothing to prevent that from happening. Except just two days after the 1986 NBA draft, Bias was pronounced dead at age 22. Here is the tragic story of what may be the biggest what if in NBA history.

Leonard Kevin Bias was born in 1963 in the outskirts of Washington, D.C. He attended Northwestern High School in Hyattsville Maryland, before announcing that he would play at the University of Maryland. 

At Maryland, Bias was initially viewed as a raw prospect, with limited skill but superb athleticism. However, he really started to take off after his freshman year. In 1984, Bias led the Terrapins to victory at the ACC Tournament and was named MVP over Michael Jordan. He then was the ACC player of the year in his last two years of college. In his senior year, he put up impressive numbers, with 23 points and 7 rebounds per game. He was regarded by scouts as a physically gifted player with an improving jump shot. The 6’8 forward was projected to maintain a rivalry with Michael Jordan in the NBA. 

Bias Is Selected 2nd Overall

His NBA career looked even more promising following the conclusion of the 1986 draft. Bias was selected by the Boston Celtics with the second overall pick. The Celtics were reigning NBA champions, and the young, athletic bias was projected to help elongate the dynasty. Many fans predicted the Celtics to repeat as champions with his addition. 

In the early hours of June 19th, just two days after the draft, he returned to his college dormitory following a gathering off-campus. In the following hours, Bias alongside his childhood friend and teammates used cocaine repeatedly. His friend Brian Tribble called 911 at 6:32 a.m, just after Bias suffered a seizure and collapsed. Attempts by EMTs to revive him were not successful, and he was taken to hospital. After over two hours fighting for his life, Bias was pronounced dead. 

The Death Felt Throughout the NBA

His passing sent shockwaves through the community. His memorial service had over 11,000 attendees, including Boston Celtics General Manager Red Auerbach. It was a much-needed wake-up call for the basketball community, which during the 1980s was significantly affected by the recreational use of cocaine. 

The impact of the death also had a huge impact on the future of the NBA and the Boston Celtics. The aging Celtics went on to lose the 1987 Finals to the Lakers, as well as the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals. This signaled the end of the Celtic dynasty in the ’80s. The leader of the team, Larry Bird, has stated that he felt Bias could have put them over the top in both series. He also said he would have retired early and handed the reigns of the team to Bias. 

At the end of the day, we will never be able to find out what Bias could have done in the NBA. There is nothing to go against the probability however, that Bias would have been a star in the NBA, and would have dramatically changed the landscape of the league in the ’90s.

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