Who is the greatest player to ever step foot in the NBA? Who is the greatest Boston Celtic to ever play? Who was supposed to be his replacement? Len Bias, the greatest player to never step foot in the NBA. Most of you have never heard this name in your life and it is a very infamous name in the NBA but should be a household story. Bias’s basketball career progressed through three stages: average college player, college superstar, top tier NBA prospect.
Len Bias was born on November 18, 1963 in Landover, Maryland. He grew up around basketball and he grew to have a “basketball body.” By the time Len Bias finished growing he was six feet eight inches tall and 210 pounds. He graduated from Northwestern High School in Maryland and proceeded to further his studies at the University of Maryland. Len Bias had a forty-four inch vertical leap to go along with his already astonishing physical size and strength. Vince Carter had a 43-inch vertical leap in his combine; Shawn Kemp: 40 inches, Dominique Wilson: 42 inches. The only true star with a higher leap was Michael Jordan with a 48-inch vertical.
Len Bias had all of the physical traits needed to be a true star at basketball. That, however, was not all he had. His jump shot was proclaimed as better than Jordan’s. He also had a defensive mind set to back up his incredible leaping ability. Bias did not get as many steals as Jordan in his final college season; however, he did get more blocks and rebounds. Len Bias and Jordan only met once in Bias’s college career. In that game, Jordan poured in 21 and Bias finished with 24. Unfortunately, Bias effort was not enough to carry his team to victory.
Bias’s college career was brightened with many high-scoring games but none were more memorable than his 41-point performance against Duke University. Bias scored the first 10 points against Duke and would end the game fourteen of twenty from the court and hit all 13 free-throws. Besides the fact that he scored 41 points against Duke’s big three (Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, and David Henderson), Bias scored all of his points without the use of a three-pointer. This was adopted in 1986 after Bias had left Maryland. Len finished his senior season averaging 23 points and seven rebounds per game.
Len Bias went into the 1986 NBA draft as a top 5 prospect, the only player that was seen as capable of being drafted over him was Brad Daugherty. On June 17, 1986 Bias entered Felt Forum in New York City, New York. He sat down with his mom and waited for the beginnings of the draft. The first pick was awarded to the Cleveland Cavaliers and with it they selected none other than Brad Daugherty. After hearing Daugherty was selected, Len Bias knew he was destined to be none other than a Boston Celtic. Commissioner David Stern spoke into the microphone letting the world know that with the second pick in the 1986 NBA draft the Boston Celtics selected Len Bias. He went on stage gave a smile shook the commissioners hand and put on the team draft hat.
The next morning Len went back home to Maryland to share his news and celebrate with his family and friends. While back home he decided that he wanted to go back to the University of Maryland to pay his friends and former teammates a visit. He spent the day there and later that night attended a party with some of his teammates. While at the party cocaine was used and Bias was involved in the act. After taking a few doses of cocaine he fell to the floor and began to have a seizure. The ambulance was called immediately to survey him. When the ambulance arrived they found him unconscious, not breathing, and unresponsive. He was then rushed to the hospital for further analysis and medical help. The doctors and medical professionals did all that they could; however, they could not save him. Len Bias died on June 19th 1986, two days after he had been drafted.
The autopsy showed that he died from an overdose of cocaine and its speculated that it may have been his first time using the drug which is what caused his body to react in such a powerful way. One of Len Bias’s friends announced that Bias is the one who encouraged him to try the substance. The release of this news brought questions to the surface about whether this was just a case of trying to “run before you can walk” or an addiction turned astray. The fact of the matter is that neither of those ideas is important to the situation.
Len Bias was projected to be the one player who could compete with Michael Jordan on all fathoms of the game. To compare their situation, Bias was going to be Jordan’s rival as Larry Bird was to Magic Johnson. With Len Bias’s death, Michael Jordan was never presented with a rival that could compete with him throughout his great career. The questions presented are: if Len Bias had stayed alive would Jordan have been able to three peat? Would the Detroit Pistons ever have won a ring? Could the Boston Celtics and Len Bias change the course of history? It is a very strong possibility because although Larry Bird was on his way out of the league, he left behind a young Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. Their inside presence combined with Len Bias’s crisp jump shot and athleticism could have provided a major issue for Jordan, the eastern conference, and The NBA as a whole.
Is Michael Jordan the statistical greatest player to ever play the game? The answer is a strong yes; but, could his awards have been cut by a beast coming out of the same conference in Len Bias? Would the Celtics have maintained their dominance well into the 1990s? would Len Bias have gone into the hall of fame as one of the greats that we look back on today? These are questions we will never have answers to, but you are able to form an opinion for yourself. Look into the highlights of Len Bias, check the stats, listen to how commentators think back on his career. Lastly just imagine how different the history of the game of basketball may have been today if Len Bias would have stayed home on June 19th 1986.
Luvert Allen, Former Editor of Sports