Len Bias Was Not Decision Fit

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.

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