This week and this NBA draft marks 30 years since the death of University of Maryland and Boston Celtics draft pick Len Bias.
I was 10 years old and a fan of Len Bias, I liked the University of Maryland even back then (I’ve always liked the college game over the pros), and he seemed like he would be the next big thing.
Then hearing he died and died from overdosing on cocaine was just life altering to me. Its cliché but I lost some innocence over that.
Of course we got the whole “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign and it seemed that overnight there was a “war on drugs”.
I was still in disbelief that a great basketball player and big guy like him could be killed like that from drugs.
I mean I knew about drugs back then, we had a neighborhood drug guy named “Richie” and we knew how he ruined his life and did all kinds of crazy things but he didn’t die.
And I had heard that in NBA there were guys who did drugs (including several guys in that 1986 draft not notably Roy Tarpley who was banned later because of his drug usage), but they didn’t die.
To say Len Bias death was an awakening is an understatement, there have been movies, books, the gamut of warnings for us young people.
Maybe even more shocking is when I got to college eight years later and still there was a drug culture but it was a “that won’t happen to us” mentality.
Hell I knew guys in high school doing stuff, people in my family, more people in the neighborhood but very few of them did cocaine, usually it was weed and that’s fine right?
Still people had issues, life problems and I went through the DARE program with the sheriff’s office I believe in 1988 or 1989 and they brought a coffin with a glass top full of drug paraphernalia.
I’ll never forget that, the officer drove a hearse too.
The shock value alone caught us off guard, even got our teachers too. I was attending a small suburban parochial school and I thought having previously going to school in south shore I saw it all.
Made me think about Len Bias.
I think about him a lot, what he could have been.
First time I saw the ESPN 30 for 30 movie about him, I cried just like I did with the Ben Wilson movie. True “Benji” was different, he was local, he was shot, he was one of us.
But so was Len, at a different level, he partied like so many other people had and then he was gone.
How many bad decisions have most of us made that could have killed us?
It’s why I can’t forget Len, it’s not that I could have been an all-star athlete but that one of my mistakes could have cost me like it did him.
But it didn’t and I have a young son, I need to make sure he learns that too.
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Filed under: African American History