June 14, 2020

Len Bias special shows how time has repaired his legacy

Andy Yamashita

There are few things sports fans love more than debating alternate realities, and for many, Maryland’s two-time All-American Len Bias represents the biggest question mark of all. The second overall draft pick in the 1986 draft by the Boston Celtics, Bias was a potentially generational talent drafted to the reigning NBA champions where he would have a chance to team up with all-time greats like Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Two days later, Bias was dead because of cardiac arrhythmia induced by an overdose on cocaine. As someone who didn’t begin watching basketball until relatively recently, I had heard of Bias but didn’t truly understand the impact of his death or its farther-reaching consequences, both in the sports world and outside of it. I thought it was particularly telling that his former coach, Basketball Hall of Famer Lefty Driesell, continually defended Bias’ legacy while on the Sportscenter special we watched for class, and additional reading informed me about how his star player’s legacy was tarnished. Driesell said, “He was a wonderful person and a great, great basketball player,” and spent most of his time extolling Bias’ virtues as a person more than the small forward’s time on the court. Additionally, I thought Jay Bilas’ acknowledgment that the Terrapins star’s death brought on a bipartisan political effort that increased the war on drugs and led to hundreds of minor offenders — most of whom were black — spending time in jail says a lot about how his demise was interpreted at the time. However, the past 34 years have been more forgiving and watching the people who really knew Bias talk about him made ESPN’s special an enjoyable, deeper look at a player with one of the most complex legacies in the history of the sport.

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