Bias after being selected in the 1986 NBA draft
|Born||November 18, 1963|
|Died||June 19, 1986 (aged 22)|
|Listed height||6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)|
|Listed weight||210 lb (95 kg)|
|High school||Northwestern (Hyattsville, Maryland)|
|NBA draft||1986 / Round: 1 / Pick: 2nd overall|
|Selected by the Boston Celtics|
|Career highlights and awards|
Leonard Kevin Bias (November 18, 1963 – June 19, 1986) was a first-team All-American college basketball forward at the University of Maryland. Two days after being selected by the Boston Celtics as the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft, Bias died from cardiac arrhythmia induced by a cocaine overdose.
Bias was born and raised in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. He was one of four children born to James Bias Jr and Dr Lonise Bias. He had a sister, Michelle, and two brothers, Eric and James III (James III was known as "Jay").
As a freshman, he was viewed as "raw and undisciplined," but ultimately, Bias developed into an All-American player. In his junior year, he led the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring and was named the ACC's Player of the Year. His senior season was highlighted by his performance in an overtime victory against top-ranked North Carolina in which he scored 35 points, including 7 in the last 3 minutes of regulation and 4 in overtime. At the end of the year, Bias collected his second ACC Player of the Year award and was named to two All-America teams.
Bias impressed basketball fans with his amazing leaping ability, his physical stature and his ability to create plays, and was considered one of the most dynamic players in the nation. By his senior year, scouts from various National Basketball Association teams viewed Bias as the most complete forward in the class of 1986. Celtics scout Ed Badger called Bias an "explosive and exciting kind of player" and compared him to Michael Jordan.
NBA draft, drug overdose, and death
On June 17, Bias was selected by the Boston Celtics as the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft, which was held in New York City at Madison Square Garden. Red Auerbach, the Celtics' president and general manager, had dealt guard Gerald Henderson and cash to the Seattle SuperSonics for the pick in 1984. After the draft, Bias and his family returned to their suburban Maryland home. On June 18, Bias and his father flew to Boston, Massachusetts, from Washington, D.C., for an NBA club draft acceptance and product endorsement signing ceremony with the Celtics' coaches and management. Bias had discussions with Reebok's sports marketing division regarding a five-year endorsement package worth $1.6 million.
After returning home to Maryland, Bias drove back to the campus of the University of Maryland. He left campus at approximately 2 a.m. on Thursday, June 19, drove to an off-campus gathering, and returned to his dormitory between 2:30 and 3 a.m. For the next three to four hours, Bias, longtime friend Brian Tribble, and several teammates repeatedly insufflated cocaine in the dormitory suite shared by Bias and his teammates. Bias reportedly had a seizure and collapsed while talking with teammate Terry Long. At 6:32 a.m., when Tribble called 911, Bias was unconscious and not breathing. All attempts by the emergency medical team to restart his heart and breathing were unsuccessful. After additional attempts to revive him at Leland Memorial Hospital in Riverdale, Maryland, Bias was pronounced dead at 8:55 a.m. of a cardiac arrhythmia related to usage of cocaine. It was reported that there were no other drugs or alcohol found in his system.
Four days after Bias died, more than 11,000 people attended a June 23 memorial service at the Cole Field House, the university recreation and student center where Bias played for the Terrapins. Those speaking at the service included Red Auerbach, who said he had planned for three years to draft Bias for the Celtics. On June 30, 1986, the Celtics honored Bias with their own memorial service, giving his never-used #30 Celtics jersey to his mother, Lonise.
On July 25, 1986, a grand jury returned indictments against Brian Tribble for possession of cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Bias's Maryland teammates Terry Long and David Gregg were charged with possession of cocaine and obstruction of justice. Long and Gregg were both suspended from the team on July 31. All three defendants entered not guilty pleas in August.
On October 20, 1986, prosecutors dropped all charges against Long and Gregg in exchange for their testimony against Tribble. On October 30, the grand jury added three more indictments against Tribble—one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and two counts of obstruction of justice.
Also on October 30, Kenneth Mark Fobbs, Tribble's roommate, was charged with perjury for allegedly lying to the grand jury about the last time he had seen Tribble. The state ultimately dropped the perjury charges against Fobbs on March 24, 1987, and a jury acquitted Tribble of all charges related to the Bias case on June 3, 1987.
In October 1990, Tribble pleaded guilty to a drug charge following a two-year undercover sting operation. He cooperated with the government and was sentenced to ten years and one month in prison.
On December 5, 1990, Len's younger brother, Jay Bias, was murdered in a drive-by shooting at age 20. The killing followed a dispute in the parking lot of Prince George's Plaza, a Hyattsville shopping mall just a few miles from the University of Maryland. He was pronounced dead at the same hospital where his brother Len had died and was buried next to him at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery.
Following their sons' deaths, James and Lonise Bias assumed vocal advocacy roles. Lonise Bias became an anti-drug lecturer, while James Bias became an advocate for gun control. Lonise Bias, in the memory of her children, opened the Len and Jay Bias Foundation, which served to encourage better examples for youth.
Len Bias Law
A few weeks after Bias' death, committees in the United States House of Representatives began writing anti-drug legislation. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was signed by President Ronald Reagan on October 27, 1986. The law provided for life imprisonment for a person who distributed drugs if death resulted from the use of those drugs; these provisions became known as "The Len Bias Law."
University of Maryland investigation
The circumstances surrounding Bias's death threw the University of Maryland and its athletics program into turmoil. An investigation revealed that Bias was 21 credits short of the graduation requirement despite having attended the university for four full years; in his final semester he had earned no academic credits at all, failing three courses and withdrawing from two others. On August 26, 1986, State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr. stated that in the hours after Bias's death, Maryland head basketball coach Lefty Driesell told players to remove drugs from Bias's dorm room (although this was later found to be false). Two days later, Bias's father, James, accused the university, and Driesell specifically, of neglecting the academic status of their athletes.
The controversy prompted athletic director Dick Dull to resign on October 7, 1986, with Driesell following suit on October 29 after 17 years as coach. The grand jury presiding over the Bias case issued a final report on February 26, 1987 that criticized the University of Maryland's athletic department, admissions office and campus police.
A film about Len Bias's life, directed by Kirk Fraser, was promoted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and was released June 19, 2009. The documentary Without Bias premiered on ESPN on November 3, 2009, as part of their 30 for 30 documentary series, commemorating the network's 30th anniversary.
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- Stolberg, Sheryl Gay; Herndon, Astead W. (June 25, 2019). "'Lock the S.O.B.s Up': Joe Biden and the Era of Mass Incarceration". The New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
His death created a media frenzy amid a national panic over crack, a cheap, smokable form of cocaine that was alarming drug-abuse experts and fueling a wave of violent crime in American cities, especially black neighborhoods. Mr. Biden convened a hearing the next month.
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- Cole, Lewis (1989). Never Too Young to Die: The Death of Len Bias. Pantheon. ISBN 0394564405.
- Smith, Fraser C. (1992). Lenny, Lefty, and the Chancellor: The Len Bias Tragedy and the Search for Reform in Big-Time College Basketball. Bancroft Press. ISBN 0963124609.
- Ungrady, Dave J. (2011). Born Ready: The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 1467972363.