“I still think of Leonard every day,” said Lefty Driesell, his coach at Maryland. So do a lot of others.
Now, of course, we know more about Bias (above, right, shown with K.C. Jones) than we did then. Traces of cocaine were found in his system, identifying him fairly or unfairly as a drug addict. Regardless of whether he was an experienced or first-time user, the fact cast a huge shadow on his image as “a good kid.”
So did the knowledge, uncovered during a subsequent university probe, that he and several teammates had flunked classes during the spring semester. Sixteen months later, Driesell was forced to resign after 17 years as the Terrapins’ coach, although he remained at Maryland briefly in an executive capacity.
At the time, Celtics superstar Larry Bird called Bias’ death “the cruelest thing I’ve ever heard.” But nearly a year later, as Boston played in the NBA Finals, Bird chirped a different tune.
“I would have hated to have him come into this situation if he was on cocaine,” Larry Legend said. “A guy like that could have come here and destroyed our team.”
Good guy or bad guy? Like most people, Len Bias probably was somewhere in the middle. The family’s grief was exacerbated four years later when his younger brother, Jay, was shot to death in the parking lot at Prince George’s Plaza by a reputed drug dealer. He was 20. Now the Biases’ mother, Lonise, works tirelessly in anti-drug campaigns that seek to prevent such tragedy and loss in other families.
Certainly, Len Bias’ death affected the University of Maryland. Two internal probes led to significant changes, including a stricter admissions process, greater emphasis on a mandatory drug testing program, higher academic standards for athletes to remain eligible and expanded tutorial and guidance staffs.
Could such enhancements have saved Bias? Nobody knows.
Not to take Bird’s comment totally out of context, but it oughta be stressed the Celtics have not been back to the finals in two decades. Though they remained competitive in the years immediately following Bias’ passing, it wouldn’t be a stretch at all to claim old age played a factor in subsequent playoff exits.