Twenty Years After the Death of Len Bias

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Monday, June 19, 2006 - 3:00pm

Twenty Years After the Death of Len Bias

On June 17, 1986, the Boston Celtics drafted Len Bias with the 2nd overall pick of the 1986 NBA draft.  Len Bias was arguably the best college basketball player in the country and he was set to become a professional.  The Boston Celtics were a storied franchise and had just won their third championship in the last six years.  Two days later, in the early morning hours of June 19, 1986, Len Bias would die of a cocaine overdose.

   It's hard to put into words just how good Len Bias was, so I've included two video clips that give you a glimpse of his extraordinary ability.  He was so good that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is noted as stating that the two most impressive college players he had ever seen were Michael Jordan and Len Bias.

Len Bias's death rocked the basketball world and the country as a whole.  Cocaine use was pushed to the forefront of discussion.   The tragedy forced parents to talk about drugs with their children.  What also shocked people was that Bias was not previously a cocaine user.  On the night he died, it was the first time he had ever snorted cocaine.  Bias's death and the fact that he had never used before scared many people into never touching cocaine or any other drug.

Growing up in the Boston area, I was a huge Celtics fan.  I can still remember watching them win the championships in 1981, 84, and 86.  I did not follow college basketball as closely, but was aware that the Celtics had just drafted a great college player.  Even though I was just 12 years old at the time, I remember hearing the news that Bias had overdosed.  At that age, I don't think his death scared me in the same way it would've had I been a few years older, but it did make a difference.  Having never taken a single drug in my life, I wonder if it was always in the back of my mind.  Perhaps his death simply reinforced what I had been taught; that drugs were dangerous and could easily kill you.  That might have been all I needed to stay away from them.

   Cocaine use did decline after the death of Len Bias, but it has since increased.  It has been a full generation since his death and many people have either forgotten his story or were not alive when he died.

The anniversary of his death brings to light the current state of the drug war.  Today, cocaine use is alive and well.  Colombia continues to provide the majority of cocaine and has little trouble getting it into the U.S.  It typically comes into the country over the southern border or through ports in South Florida.  Both of these access points have been huge discussion areas on immigration and port control in recent months.

This is a problem that is fixable.  We know who provides the drug and we know how it gets into the country.  One of the other reasons for a 2,000 mile fence along the southern border is that it could greatly reduce drug trafficking.  With more funds directed toward port and border control, supply could be effectively cut off.

We'll never know how great of a person or basketball player Len Bias could've been.  What we do know is that his death helped a great number of people stay off drugs.  Hopefully, the lesson we learned from his tragic death can be passed on to the next generation.

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