30 Years Later, Stunning Death in Basketball Still Lingers

Len Bias overdosed 2 days after being drafted by Celtics
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 20, 2016 2:50 PM CDT
A screen grab of Len Bias, when he played for Maryland.   (YouTube)

(Newser) – It was huge news 30 years ago almost to the day: College basketball phenom Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose just two days after being drafted by the Boston Celtics. A look at coverage of the anniversary:

  • Bias starred at the University of Maryland, and a feature in the Baltimore Sun includes a memory of his first game as a starter. He was a nervous kid for much of it, until teammate Pete Holbert committed a foul, and Bias then took control and led the Terps to an OT win. "It was like, 'This guy is going to be really good," recalls Holbert.

  • That prediction proved true. The Washington Post quotes Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski as saying in 2003 that only two opposing players had stood out in his long career: Bias and a guy named Michael Jordan. "He could invent ways to score, and there was nothing you could do about it," the coach said of Bias. Another person put it this way: "He was It."
  • After his death—"the cruelest thing I've ever heard," said Celtics great Larry Bird—Bias became a pawn in the war on drugs, writes Jon Schuppe at NBC News. His OD "sparked a panic, stoked by false rumors and a high-stakes political campaign, that culminated in a law that swept thousands of low-level drug offenders—most of them young and black—into prison." The effects of that law, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, still resonate today.
  • Bias' mother, Lonise, lost a second son to a drive-by shooting a few years later, and has since worked as a community activist helping young people, reports WTOP.
  • A post at Deadspin sums it up this way: "His death still makes everyone crazy."
(Read more basketball stories.)

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