On June 19, 1986, potential NBA legend Len Bias passed away at the age of 22 from cardiac arrhythmia due to cocaine consumption.
Two days prior, the Boston Celtics drafted Len Bias with the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA Draft. The Celtics were coming off a regular season with a 67-15 record and an NBA record 40-1 record at home. Their success continued in the playoffs as the Celtics went on to win their third NBA championship in five years after defeating the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals in six games.
In his storied four-year college career with the Maryland Terrapins, Len Bias won two ACC Player of the Year awards, named to two All-ACC teams, ACC Tournament MVP in his senior season, named to the Consensus All-American second team in his junior season and Consensus All-American first team in his senior season.
Coming out of college, Bias drew comparisons to Michael Jordan who at that point was coming off his rookie season in the NBA. Then Boston Celtics scout Ed Badger compared Bias to Jordan saying he was an “explosive and exciting kind of player.”
Keith Gatlin, Bias’ former teammate at Maryland, had this to say about Len Bias in relation to the comparisons to Michael Jordan,
“Lenny was unbelievably strong, had crazy athleticism and had that jumper that Jordan, at the college level, had yet to reveal. Lenny needed to get the rebound, give it up and then fill a lane. Now, once you got it to him past half-court and either threw it up to him near the rim or down in the post, the rest was history. In college, Lenny couldn’t get it off the rim and go. Maybe he would have developed that skill if he played in a different system that would have let him play his natural ‘three’ position. But we were always an undersized team at Maryland and Lenny, who was 6-foot-8, often had to play the four or five. That meant he went up against guys, like, [North Carolina’s] Brad Daugherty, [Georgia Tech’s] John Salley and [N.C. State’s] Chris Washburn every night. It was a challenge, but his strength and jumping ability allowed him to excel.”
If Len Bias had played on the Celtics, AT LEAST one of Michael Jordan's six NBA titles would've been in Boston.
— NBCSports Washington (@NBCSWashington) June 17, 2020
Unfortunately, while hanging out with friends and teammates on his college campus, Bias had a seizure and collapsed as a result of cocaine consumption. Unconscious and not breathing when his friends called 911, paramedics were unable to revive him and Bias was pronounced dead hours later.
As a result of the events behind Bias’ passing, the U.S. House of Representatives wrote an anti-drug legislation that would become the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (or the Len Bias Law) that said anyone who distributes drugs to someone and the person receiving the drugs ends up passing away, the distributor would receive a life sentence in prison.
Criminal charges were brought upon Bias’ friend Brian Tribble for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and his teammates Terry Long and David Gregg were charged with possession of cocaine and obstruction of justice as a result of the incident. All three men were acquitted of all charges but four years later Tribble would be sentenced to 10 years in prison on an unrelated drug charge after a two-year sting operation.
To this day, NBA fans wonder how great Len Bias could have been in the NBA on the defending champion Boston Celtics alongside Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Fans can only speculate what could have happened if Bias and Michael Jordan faced off in the NBA at their peaks.
More importantly, Bias’ tragic passing is a cautionary tale of the dangers of taking recreational drugs and why a person should take the necessary precautions when deciding to consume any drug.
R.I.P Len Bias