Think about all that can happen in the space of 25 years. Friends come and go, and milestones are recognized and passed. Sometimes, even, lifetimes are lived, and always it seems like everything had happened in just a fleeting moment. Blink and it’s gone.
Time marches on. It always does.
In sports, 25 years is more than a lifetime and longer than an era. It’s forever and the number of players that every franchise in every sport has seen make through multiple decades of service can be counted on one hand.
It’s been exactly 25 years since Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose (June 19, 1986) less than two days after he had been selected by the Boston Celtics as the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Bias was the great college basketball player from the University of Maryland, but more than that he was billed as the next great Boston Celtics All-Star. He had once-in-a-lifetime talent and was headed for a team that had Hall of Famers like Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson as well as Robert Parish and Danny Ainge, so clearly Bias had the world by the tail.
Only he didn’t.
Bias’ death was at the time, according to Celtics great Larry Bird, “The cruelest thing ever.”
It certainly seemed that way at the time. With the aid of time and distance we learned that Bias and his university had a several other significant problems and the cocaine abuse was just the tip of the iceberg. Bias had been flunking out of school and was known to keep company with a few unsavory characters, including Brian Tribble, the convicted cocaine dealer who is said to have supplied the dose that killed him.
Ultimately, Tribble was cleared of any wrongdoing in Bias’ death, but Maryland coach Lefty Driesell’s reputation remains sullied in the aftermath of his star players’ death. Meanwhile, we’ve learned that Bias wasn’t exactly a novice cocaine user either. It as Bias’ leased sports car undercover cops saw cruising a notorious drug neighborhood on Montana Avenue in Washington, D.C. Later, Tribble admitted that he and Bias were recreational cocaine users, but no one knew.
How could we? Bias was in that rarefied air of the greatest players to come through a new era of basketball. His contemporary, Michael Jordan, had just won the rookie of the year award and seemed poised to renew a rivalry with Bias for years to come.
It was perfect. The story was already written.
Actually, in 25 years there has been a lot more damage and disgrace than growth, but that’s the way it goes when a star is extinguished long before his time.
And “star” is the only way to describe Bias. He was to be the next great star of the NBA – not like Karl Malone or Charles Barkley, who were also on the way up at the time – but instead like the guys who only needed one name.
Michael, Magic, Larry…