A Glimpse of a Great Rivalry: Michael Jordan Faces Len Bias at Cole Field House in 1984

March 5, 2021

After his freshman year, Bias realized he needed to work on his main weakness – dribbling the basketball – if he wanted to be a dominant force in the NBA, so he asked incoming freshman guard Keith Gatlin for help. Gatlin and Bias worked together all that summer, playing one-on-one in Cole Field House, with Bias wearing special dribble glasses that didn’t allow him to look down at the ball. At times, they started their sessions near midnight after getting back from a movie. 

With improved ball-handling skills and a renewed sense of purpose, Bias would help Maryland to one of its most rewarding seasons. Maryland began the season ranked No. 8 in the country. By the time the Terrapins met top-ranked North Carolina on January 12, they were 10-1 and had moved up to No. 5. Thanks in large part to Bias, who scored a career-high 24 points while helping to hold Michael Jordan to 21, Maryland trailed by just one point with about two minutes remaining before Jordan and fellow All-America Sam Perkins led Carolina to a 12-point victory. It was one of Bias’s best games of the season. Further, it showcased a potential and dynamic rivalry between Jordan and Bias for years to come, but it was one that never materialized.

A Historic Game and a New Superstar: Bias named MVP of ’84 ACC Tournament

March 3, 2021

By Don Markus

Maryland’s 74-62 victory over Duke in the 1984 ACC tournament championship game at the Greensboro Coliseum was historic on many levels, highlighted at the time for being the first title for the Terps since 1958 and the first for their head coach, Lefty Driesell, in six appearances in the finals since coming to College Park in 1969.

Yet in the context of what transpired that March afternoon in North Carolina, and what happened afterwards, it also became known as the coronation of the ACC’s next star. With North Carolina’s Michael Jordan leaving Chapel Hill that spring for the NBA and the transcendent career that awaited him in Chicago, the crown had been passed to Maryland sophomore forward Len Bias.

Bias had certainly displayed flashes before of what was to happen in Greensboro. 

As a freshman, and not yet in Maryland’s starting lineup, Bias had helped the Terps overwhelm the Tar Heels, the reigning national champions and ranked No. 3 in the country, even famously posterizing North Carolina center Brad Daugherty on one dunk. In his first NCAA tournament game, his 17-foot jump shot with a second remaining helped unranked Maryland to beat No. 15 Tennessee-Chattanooga.

As a sophomore and finally entrenched in a starting lineup that featured senior forward Ben Coleman and junior guard Adrian Branch, Bias had outscored Jordan, 24-21, in their matchup at Cole Field House. But the Tar Heels pulled away and Jordan’s breakaway reverse dunk right before the final buzzer became the game’s enduring memory. It infuriated Jordan’s own coach, the legendary Dean Smith, and inspired Bias. 

While another Bias-Jordan matchup in the ACC tournament was ruined when Duke upset the then top-ranked Tar Heels, 77-75, in the 1984 tournament semifinals, Bias had his own motivation for the championship game. Coleman was the only Maryland player named all-conference for the second-place Terps that season, and Bias had shared honors as the team’s leading scorer with 15.3 points a game.

After the 1984 regular season ended, Bias had been snubbed by the largely North Carolina-based media who chose seven players from within the state among the 10 who were named.

“I didn’t get named to any of the all-ACC teams, first or second-team,” said Bias. “I wanted people to know I could play and that I could do it in big games.” He further told his friend Brian Waller, a teammate at Northwestern High School who later played at Providence, that he would win the Most Valuable Player award at the ACC tournament and that Maryland would win.

Those not that familiar with a player whose jump shot was as feathery as his dunks were ferocious had to take notice. After scoring 15 points in each of the first two tournament games, Bias overcame a shaky first half in which he committed six turnovers and dominated the Blue Devils. Bias finished with a career-high 26 points and was named the tournament’s MVP.


While he had many other memorable performances during his junior and senior seasons, both of which ended with Bias being named the ACC’s player of the year, it was what he did at the 1984 ACC tournament that might have been his greatest achievement as a Terp when the crown was passed and the coronation began.  

Len Bias Was Not Decision Fit

August 17, 2020

By Chris Spetzler

Executive Director

Decision Education Foundation

Len Bias was already a standout basketball player and he had the potential to be one of the best players of all time. Those around him were excited by his prospects and he was living his dream, wrapped up with the dreams of so many others in the University of Maryland community and beyond.

Unfortunately, Len made a fateful series of decisions that resulted in an outcome he couldn’t have imagined. He died of complications caused by a cocaine overdose. The possibility he might die was probably not a part of his decision frame. When a friend who was with him the morning he died suggested Len slow down his cocaine consumption, he replied, “I’m a horse, I can handle it.”

That’s the way Len was living his life, almost a secret of his success, driving himself harder than anyone else. He assumed he could take anything.

At 6 feet, 8 inches, 220 pounds, with 5% body fat, Len was very physically fit. But, clearly, he was not Decision Fit. He fell victim to a Decision Trap. The Decision Education Foundation (DEF) teaches how everyone should remember to HALT when they are not Decision Fit. Your decision competence is compromised when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Something similar happens when you are excited or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You are more likely to do crazy stuff, stupid stuff, and take outsized risks. You are not in your right mind – not fit to make a high quality decision. You need to be able to stop and think before you decide. Len did not stop – he went with the flow, he plowed forward.

It’s probably not an overstatement to conclude Len was feeling immortal in the moments before he died, and those around him were caught up in it themselves. His friends could hardly have imagined how they would truly be caught up in his death and its aftermath, especially those celebrating with him that night. Otherwise, they would have made different choices. Instead, they have likely lived their lives wishing they had.

Could Len have stopped to think about his deeper values, to consider how much he cared about his family, about his friends, about the increasing number of young people idolizing him? That his behavior might suddenly be revealed in such a tragic and destructive fashion must have been minimized to such an extent that it was easily shrugged off, almost invisible.

Len didn’t get the opportunity to live to experience the extremely bad outcome his decisions set in motion. And American society has lived his tragedy in many ways to this day.

From the perspective of learning about decision making, the lessons include how a single bad decision can destroy a lifetime of good decisions. Learning to make better decisions can save lives.

The Decision Education Foundation is a fiscal sponsor and marketing partner for GoGrady Media’crowdfund campaign supporting production of a documentary about Len Bias. You can reach Chris at 650-814-9616.

Intern Reflections – Lessons Learned from a Bad Decision

July 29, 2020

A trio of interns from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism supported production efforts for a documentary about Len Bias during the summer of 2020. They were asked to reflect on their experience.

by Kelsey Mannix

Before starting this internship, I didn’t know much about Len Bias. I’ve been a Maryland basketball fan for my entire life, but Bias played before I was born. After doing more research and reading Dave’s book, I knew this project would be interesting because there’s multiple levels to Bias’ story.

It’s crazy to think about how many people and institutions felt (and in some cases are still feeling) the ramifications of his death: family, friends, the University of Maryland and the United States as a whole. I didn’t know his death prompted drastic changes in prison sentences for people who committed drug offenses. Some people are still feeling those effects today, 34 years later.

While many people remember Bias for his talents on the basketball court, it’s important to also remember that he made a decision that changed his life and the lives of others. Nobody is perfect. Good people can make bad decisions. I know that firsthand; my cousin died of an overdose in 2005. While I mostly remember the good memories, I also remember that one decision changed everything. His passing made me more observant of my surroundings and cautious in my decision-making as I got older.

The lessons we can learn from decisions like these are just as important as preserving Bias’ legacy as an athlete and as a person. My hope is that going forward, people who don’t necessarily want to relive those fateful days in June 1986 can understand that one bad decision does not completely negate all of the positive aspects of Bias’ life, and telling his full story can have a positive impact on other people’s lives.

Thanks to Dave, Don and GoGrady Media for an eventful virtual internship this summer. I’m excited to use what I learned in the future as I finish up my master’s degree at UMD.

Intern Reflections – An Education About Len Bias

July 29, 2020

A trio of interns from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism supported production efforts for a documentary about Len Bias during the summer of 2020. They were asked to reflect on their experience.

by Jamal Williams

Upon taking the role of production assistant, I knew a little about the story of former Maryland basketball star Len Bias. He was destined for greatness because of his tall stature, powerful strength and soft touch jumper. Bias was compared to many basketball stars of his generation and  had him rivaling Micheal Jordan for greatest player of all time. 

I also knew that his life was cut short by a poor decision he made on June 19, 1986. Choosing to take drugs that night drastically turned answers we would have gotten about Bias’ basketball legacy into questions that are still left unanswered 34 years later.

Though I realized the impact his death had from a basketball standpoint, what I didn’t realize is the impact he would have on the school’s athletic department, the Boston Celtics future, and countless others in the country for years to come. Bias’ poor decision greatly affected loved ones, family and even those who never even knew who he was. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was written in response to his death. Many, particularly African Americans, were disproportionately imprisoned by the drug act. 

Bias’ death left the Maryland Athletic department looking for answers and assigning blame to those who didn’t even know he was taking drugs. It put more solace on coaches and staff to monitor athletes more closely, as well as making sure they were on top of their school work.

The Boston Celtics were left without a star to take the team after superstars Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Bill Walton were done playing. It felt like a curse had been placed on the franchise as another potential star, Reggie Lewis, died from using drugs in 1993. For years the franchise struggled to get back the glory they once had in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

I believe Bias’ story is one that needs to be told in its totality. The domino effect the one person had on countless others affected people negatively and positively. It was because of bias’ death that many people decided to never use drugs again. It opened my eyes to the underlying details of what went on that fateful night.

Going from location to location was an exciting way to meet new people and hear their stories on how Bias’ death affected them. Getting to put together pieces of work that helped contribute to the overall making of the documentary made me feel a sense of accomplishment. And standing over the gravesites of both Len and Jay Bias gave me a sense of how surreal this experience has been and that his story is not just one that sounds like an urban myth.

This experience has also helped me to witness the amount of work it takes to put a project like this together. From his book Born Ready:The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias to the 34+1 Campaign, Dave Ungrady has thoroughly studied the instances that made Bias’ legacy a complicated one. I admire his ability to put his all into teaching people that your mistakes can not only affect you, but have an impact on those around you. I’m also grateful to have had the opportunity to work with a great group of individuals: Don Markus, Alex Veizis, Casey Fair and Kelsey Mannix.

A Reflection on Len’s Legacy

July 27, 2020

A Look at His Most Memorable Moments

by Jamal Williams

MOTIVATION

In middle school, Len was cut not once, but twice, from the basketball team at Greenbelt Middle School. Those two setbacks led to a relentless determination for Bias to overcome his failures and become a great basketball player.

FINDING A MENTOR

While in ninth grade, Len met Johnnie Walker, who played varsity basketball at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, the same high school where Len later played. Johnnie would later convince Len to start playing basketball with other boys at the Columbia Park Recreation Center near his home, also called “The Rec”, where Walker was a coach.

Walker taught Bias the fundamentals and toughened up Bias, who Walker called “a baby” when he started working with him. Walker also taught Bias conditioning with innovative exercises, such as plyometrics, which he learned from Bob Wagner, his former coach at Northwestern.

Intern Reflections – Project Increases Awareness of the Len Bias legacy

July 24, 2020

A trio of interns from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism supported production efforts for a documentary about Len Bias during the summer of 2020. They were asked to reflect on their experience.

by Casey Fair

Not only did I further my knowledge within the field of documentary production during my time as an intern for GoGrady Media this summer, I also increased my awareness and understanding of the University of Maryland’s complex history, specifically surrounding Len’s death.

The ripples from Bias’s death were felt for decades within the university’s community, from the athletic department’s budget cuts and personnel changes to how the student athletes were treated on campus. It will be interesting to see how the death of football player, Jordan McNair, impacts the campus in the years to come.

Even more interesting is the impact Bias’s death had on the whole country with drug incarcerations. New legislation was passed in response to Bias’s death which led to a lot of people getting increased sentences that led to increased prison populations and prison conditions worsening. The documentary, Born Ready: A Mixed Legacy, explores this topic heavily—arguably one of the biggest tragedies to come out of Bias’s death.

While I will not be able to see Born Ready: A Mixed Legacy through to the end of production, I look forward to the premiere and seeing the entirety of Len’s story get the recognition it deserves. 

Zoom Call To Promote BTN Broadcast of Terps 1984 ACC Tournament Win

July 17, 2020

Guests include Holbert, Dillard & Philbin

Holbert Will Explain the Mystery of His Missing ACC Title Ring

From: GoGradyMedia 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Former University of Maryland basketball forward Pete Holbert is scheduled as a featured guest on a zoom call next week that will promote an upcoming television broadcast of the 1984 Men’s ACC tournament title game won by Maryland. 

The call, hosted by GoGrady Media  (GGM), will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21. The broadcast of the game on the Big Ten Network will air at 9 p.m. and is part of the network’s “Maryland Day”, 24-hours of game broadcast featuring 10 Terps sports. InsideMDSports will be a promotional sponsor for the call.

Holbert was mostly a reserve forward that year, starting one game. As a senior, he witnessed the slow progression of the Terps team from his freshman season. The Terps finished in second place in the ACC regular season in 1984, the highest finish in Holbert’s Maryland career.

Holbert entered Maryland in 1980 as a McDonald’s High School All-America out of Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia. He recorded his best season during his sophomore year, averaging more than five points per game. In 2016 he revealed in a Baltimore Sun story how he recovered his ACC title ring after losing it in 1987.

Dillard served as an assistant coach on the men’s team from 1979 to 1985. He is now a men’s assistant coach with the University of Iowa.

John Philbin, a Maryland strength coach in the early 1980s, will also be a guest on the call. Philbin, owner of Philbin’s Sports Performance, will explain the team’s approach to strength and conditioning at that time.

Maryland in 1984 won its second of three ACC men’s basketball tournament titles; it was the first for coach Lefty Driesell. Maryland also won conference tournament titles in 1958 and 2004.

GoGrady Media is the producer of a new documentary, in it preproduction phase, about the legacy of Len Bias, the former University of Maryland basketball star who died of complications from a drug overdose in 1986.  

Watch the documentary sizzle reel here.

As part of the call, GGM will announce a partnership with the Decision Education Foundation (DEF). DEF is a nonprofit whose mission is to improve the lives of young people by empowering them with effective Decision Skills. DEF has started a crowdfunding campaign to fiscally support production of GGM’s documentary, which is in the pre-production phase. Contributions to the crowdfunding campaign are tax-deductible.  

The documentary, tentatively titled Born Ready: A Mixed Legacy, is based on the book, Born Ready: The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias, written by GoGrady Media President Dave Ungrady. The documentary, an update of the book and The Born Ready Project that teaches decision making skills to teenagers and young adults, are all part of the newly launched 34+1 campaign. 

For more information, contact:  Dave Ungrady – President/Founder, GoGrady Media or Dana Luco, Marketing and Program Development, Decision Education Foundation, gogrady@decisioneducation.org

P.O. Box 93 Clarksburg, MD 20871     

dave@gogradymedia.com  @djungrady

703-282-5259 gogradymedia.com 

U of MD Alumni Remember #34

June 29, 2020

by Jamal Williams

On Friday June 19, the Howard County alumni association hosted a zoom call to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the death of Len Bias. With some 40 people on the call, featured guest Dave Ungrady, author of the book Born Ready: The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias, shared his fondest memories of what Bias meant to the school, his legacy as a basketball player and the effect his death had on the nation at large.

“I saw what Len’s death did to the athletic department…there were a lot of cases where people’s lives changed, negatively and positively,” said Ungrady, a 1980 graduate of Maryland who was a member of the soccer and track and field teams at the school.

Videos were used to show the legacy Bias left behind and why his story still resonates today. The videos depicted a possible matchup of Bias vs. Micheal Jordan in the NBA, explained the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act and showed the effect Bias’ death had on Len’s teammates, friends and family.

During the call former Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus recalled his memories of writing about Bias at Maryland. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that this guy was a stud,” he said.” I had just finished covering Chris Mullins (former St. John’s University basketball player), and even he couldn’t touch Len Bias in terms of his overall impact on a college basketball game.” 

Further, Markus described the fallout from Bias’ death as a blow to the athletic department at Maryland. Basketball head coach Lefty Driesell and football head coach Bobby Ross both resigned. “It really impacted the program for a long time,” said Markus. “It was not only the most important story I covered but it was the most long-lasting and far reaching story I covered in my career,” said Markus.

The 34 + 1 campaign promotes youth education

Ungrady also discussed the overall meaning behind the 34 + 1 campaign he created to help teach people about Bias’ story. “

We’re really trying to use this campaign as a way to educate teenagers and young adults about what happens when you make bad decisions,” said Ungrady.

Ungrady and Markus have begun work on a documentary about Bias that is part of the 34+1 campaign. 

During The Coronavirus Crisis, Ways to Act Resilient

March 20, 2020

With the Covid-19 Coronavirus crisis, we are facing challenging and difficult situations that mount daily, if not hourly. We face a time when resilience, or the ability to recover quickly from a difficult or challenging situation. plays an important part in our lives. 

As part of the Born Ready Project, I developed a program that offers ways to act resilient. and have spoken to youth in large and small settings about the importance of resilience when facing a challenge. Such situations may include an injury, missing a soccer penalty kick in a shootout, a serious illness, the loss of a loved one, or a natural tragedy that drastically disrupts your life. I also pass along these tips to youth as a high school teacher and a professional soccer coach. 

In my latest Born Ready blog, I suggest five ways to stay resilient through a crisis. This can help everyone effectively endure this challenging time.

Stay Positive – It’s difficult to see the light at the end of tunnel that gets clogged every day with more unsettling information about the virus and how it is affecting our lives. The key here is to find and embrace positive moments and situations, and not lose sight of a future that will improve.

As a teacher, I am fortunate to still receive my pay while we sort out the best ways to adjust our teaching methods to suit every student remotely. With schools closed and my wife able to work full time from home, I’ve assumed the role of caretaker for our nine-year-old son, Cayden.

Already I’ve seen the positive benefits of spending more relaxed time with Cayden. Each day we’ve either gone outside for a few hours to play soccer and/or basketball, or riding a bike. Sure, we annoy each other at times, but we also engage in moments of healthy laughter and light conversation. All the activity and quality interaction helps us justify allowing more time for him to watch television or play games on his mobile device. 

Find ways to enjoy each day, and relish the positive moments. Perhaps a young soccer player will spend more time fine-tuning skills, such as juggling or kicking swerved balls against a wall, that will help him when organized play resumes. 

Take some time to imagine what life will be like once this Corona crisis is over, focusing on the lessons you may have learned and ways you can improve your life. At that point, you will likely have to…

Accept Change – anytime we fight change, we embrace feelings that make us more anxious and increase our stress levels. Accepting and embracing change will place you in a more positive frame of mind. 

A competitive athlete knows that resisting and fighting a challenge makes it harder to conquer that challenge. For example, during a conditioning exercise, it helps to welcome every set of sprints, not dread them. Accept that they will cause discomfort, but you will get through them, and be better off once they are completed. 

When a challenge confronts you, take a deep breath, accept the situation and then…

Set Realistic Goals – When you face a drastic change, assess the situation and set realistic goals that will help you work through the challenge. If you are an injured athlete, set time frames to return to comfortable physical activity, then training and ultimately to competition. If you are laid off from a job, quickly research your work options. Do you need a job in a week, or a month? Assess your financial situation and plan a budget 3 or 6 months out. Setting realistic goals will help you understand that there is an endpoint, and see the future in a more positive way. It also helps to…

Take Care of Yourself – to help recover from a challenge, it helps to maintain a strong sense of yourself, and focus on healthy activities that make you feel better and bring joy to your day. They can include meditation, exercise, maintaining clean personal habits, enjoying fun family activities and talking with someone who may provide emotional support. That’s a great way to…

Connect with Others – There’s a good reason why team sports focus on teamwork. One athlete alone can not provide the best result. Teams can not perform to their full potential without practicing together, getting to know each other’s tendencies, and becoming comfortable as a group despite disparate personalities. As part of a team, you connect with each other to overcome challenges. 

To overcome any challenge, connect with others who are facing similar challenges. You will learn things others are doing to help them conquer the challenge. And you will likely find that you can offer advice to help others as well. Working as a team, you will improve your chances, and those of others, to overcome any challenge. 

Inspirational Video – To end on a fun note, here’s a video that shows the resilience of Cayden, then 22-months old, trying to shoot a basketball through a hoop. Try to figure out which of the tips he most displayed while staying resilient.