Intern Reflections – An Education About Len Bias

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.

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