Len Bias


Excellent piece on Len Bias on ESPN.com this week that I think you guys should check out. Inspired me to write a short bit about his death after the jump. (Warning: Serious, non-snarky, and clumsy emoting on the site straight ahead.)

There are two days I specifically remember from 1986. The first was the Challenger explosion. The second was the day after Len Bias died. I was devastated. Part of it was being a huge basketball fan, and getting a lot of Maryland games on TV and seeing what an amazing player this guy was. Part of it was just being 11 and still thinking that life was supposed to be fair. I remember reading the paper that day and crying and cursing him in my head for throwing it all away. Strangely, I recall looking up from the paper and seeing an ant on my arm, and trying to flick it off. I was off in my calculation and killed the ant, which made me even more hysterical. Death made about as much sense then as it does now, and somehow in my mind Bias’s death and my killing of a harmless creature seemed cosmically related.
This was before the Age of Cynicism had set in, so even when it was discovered to be a cocaine overdose, it seems to me that it was still treated as a tragedy, not as it would be seen today (“Dumb jock had everything and threw it all away on drugs.” Followed by 1,000 bloggers trying to think of the funniest headline to mock it.) Then again, maybe that was the way it was seen but I was too young to pick up on it.

Regardless, his death has always somehow served as a ballast in my life when it came to drugs. When I discovered that he had died of cocaine, I swore to myself that I would never touch the stuff, and unlike most promises I made to myself as a kid, I actually lived up to that one. “Just say no” and “This is your brain on drugs” and “You, alright! I learned it by watching you” and all that other silliness was just that to a kid. Silliness. But seeing that cocaine could stop the heart of one of the most impressive physical specimens you had ever laid eyes on…well, that scares the shit out of an 11 year old. It still scares the shit out of a 33 year old.

Perhaps in a city where hundreds of kids die every year, it is ridiculous for me to still be emotional about a person I never met who died of his own doing over 20 years ago. Nonetheless, when I read the column about his death, there I am again, crying and angrily cursing him in my head for throwing it all away. I want someone to turn back the clock and tell him not to do something so freaking stupid. I want him to live and be better than Jordan and receive alley-oop passes from Larry Bird, then flash his shy smile as he runs back down the court. I want him to continue to be sweet and self deprecating in his interviews. I want him to create a better life for his family. I want his younger brother to follow his footsteps to the NBA, instead of being shot and killed in a mall parking lot a few years later. I want life to be fair.
RELATED: Clip of an upcoming documentary on his life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *