A Len Bias Fan Remembers His Hero

By Lauren Rosh

When he was around 15 years old, George Assimakopoulos walked into Cole Field House and saw his fellow basketball campers gathered for University of Maryland basketball coach Lefty Driesell’s summer camp, sitting in the stands staring at one of the baskets. When Assimakopoulos asked what was going on, they all pointed to Maryland star Len Bias. Bias, who has just completed his junior season, appeared to be running a drill.

“He’s up to about a buck-25,” a friend said to Assimakopoulos.

When his friend motioned for him to look at the court, Assimakopoulos could not believe what he saw.    

“I started watching and [Bias] was taking this running start and competing with either a teammate or a friend to see how many quarters they could stack on the top of the backboard,” Assimakopoulos said. “Most of us would love to even reach the rim. Here’s someone who’s reaching the top of the backboard. That was the athlete he was.”

When asked if he was sure about what he saw,  Assimakopoulos added, “Maybe he was taking quarters off of the backboard. And maybe they lowered the basket.  But who cares? It was amazing to see.” 

That moment is one of many that Assimakopoulos remembers about Bias. Another memory is also painfully vivid, nearly 35 years later.

Assimakopoulos was still in high school when his older sister, who attended Maryland and worked in the health center on the College Park campus, called him early in the morning on June 19, 1986, to share the news of Bias’ death. His sister told him that there were reports that “there there was an incident, an accident in his dorm, there’s drugs being talked about and there’s misuse and he had heart failure and he died immediately.”

Assimakopoulos was shocked.

“I leapt out of bed and I turned on the news and sure enough it’s everywhere and I’m being exposed to something that was beyond devastating because, for me at that age at that time, he was like a hero,” Assimakopoulos said. “He was someone that we all looked up to and to see that and to hear that news, I can’t even begin to express the grief that we were all experiencing.”

A few weeks later, it was time for Assimakopoulos and his friends to make their way back to Cole Field House for basketball camp. But this time, Bias was not there to coach them or provide magical moments. 

When the campers arrived, Driesell sat them down in the middle of the court and introduced former Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach, who had first met Bias when he was a camper himself at Auerbach’s summer camp in Washington. As the team’s president and general manager, Auerbach had made a trade that had given the Celtics the No. 2 pick in the 1986 to help secure the Maryland star.

Two days before his death, Bias became a Celtic.       

“[Auerbach] talked to us about choices and decisions in life,” Assimakopoulos said. “He [told] us about how Len just got away from his decision making and one decision had caused his life, and was kind of a really, really difficult lesson to learn at the time.”

As the 35th year from Bias’ death approaches, Assimakopoulos reflects on what Bias meant to him and how his passing affects him even today.

“People do make mistakes” he said.  “That one was tragic, but because of the single choice that he made, his legacy will always be marred with that. I think if there’s anything I learned personally from Len Bias, … be sure you’re making the right choices in life because a single decision can ruin all the hard work that you put forth. So, I don’t look at it as just a tragic story, I look at it as a life that taught many others, a lesson to remember. ”    

Lauren is a junior majoring in Journalism at the University of Maryland and an intern for the 34+1 Campaign.

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