On the evening of Tuesday, June 17, 1986, Len Bias was the second overall pick in the NBA Draft. The basketball gods delivered the do-everything 6-8 University of Maryland star to, of all teams, the recently minted world champion Boston Celtics and reigning MVP Larry Bird. Little over 36 hours later, at 8:50am on June 19, 1986, the 22 year old Bias was pronounced dead at Leland Memorial Hospital in Riverdale, Maryland.
So much has been written and produced about Bias’s passing, tales filled with words like sad, cautionary, unfortunate, and monumental.
“The death of Len Bias can be classified as the most socially influential moment in the history of modern sports,” ESPN’s Michael Weinreb once wrote.
Thirty-five years after Bias’s passing, his death frequently overshadows his life. On the hardwood, Bias was a force of nature, a chiseled forward who mixed power, speed, skill, and competitive streak. In one 14-second video, it’s all there: a smooth 17-foot jumper, an instinctual rush to steal an inbounds pass, and the explosion into a reverse jam. That’s Bias.
(Bias, it’s interesting to note, was also a talented artist who, according to reports, had been interested in a career in interior design. Imagine that, a 6-8 Zeus-like figure discussing the colors, lighting, and finishes that would make your home more functional?)
In his final game in a Terps uniform, a second-round NCAA Tournament loss to UNLV, Bias nearly willed Maryland to victory. He scored the Terps’ final 13 points against the Rebels, who squeaked out a 70-64 victory over Maryland. Bias finished with 31 points, 23 in the second half, and 12 rebounds.
Bias left Maryland as the school’s all-time scoring leader, a two-time ACC Player of the Year, and an All-American. Here’s what those who played against Bias and those who observed him had to say about the former Maryland star:
“He’s about as good an athlete as I’ve ever played, and that includes Michael Jordan.” --Former Duke star Mark Alarie
“In all my years in the ACC, as a player and a coach, he's as good as anyone who came through the league.” --Georgia Tech head coach Bobby Cremins
“He’s maybe the closest thing to Michael Jordan to come out in a long time. I’m not saying he’s as good, but he’s an explosive and exciting player like that.” --Celtics president Red Auerbach
“He’s a sensational prospect. I like strength in people and the ability to score points, and he’s got both those things. He’s a very tough competitor.” --Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Fratello
“I always thought Len was invincible. The way he was built, it looked like he was chiseled out of a Greek god manual.”
--Former Duke star Johnny Dawkins