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Reflections and Comments on Len Bias’s Legacy, 35 Years After His Death

July 27, 2021

By Kevin F. McNulty

GoGrady Media Correspondent

Len Bias at Maryland // The Washington Post via Getty Images

I remember exactly where I was when I learned that Kobe Bryant died on January 26, 2020. I was waiting for a flight at Chicago’s O’hare Airport, and I saw a man sitting near me turn toward his friend. 

“Dude, Kobe Bryant died,” he said. 

Of course, I didn’t believe him. There’s no way, I thought. How could that be? But I opened my phone to check Twitter, and it was true. Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash along with eight others. 

I was 18 at the time, and the news came as an unbelievable shock. One of the greatest athletes from my childhood, although retired, was dead. 

It’s remarkable that the death of someone whom I never met, and someone whom I wasn’t a particularly big fan of, could shake me to the core. But that’s exactly what happened on that cold January day. 

At that moment, I felt too stunned to even think about what Bryant meant to me, our country or the basketball world, and I can only imagine how that feeling was accentuated for Bryant’s biggest fans. 

As a lifelong basketball fan, that day tops my list of “Where were you?” moments (I was only an infant at the time of the September 11th attacks). But for millions of basketball fans from a different generation, their top “Where were you?” moment came on the morning of June 19, 1986 — the day Len Bias died. 

Bryant’s death differed from Bias’s in one key way: his professional basketball career was over, while Bias’s was just beginning. Bryant had a whole lot more life to live, but his legacy as a hall of fame basketball player was cemented. 

Bias was preparing to shape his own legacy, then, after he died of a cocaine overdose at age 22, it was shaped for him. 

That’s exactly what punched Bias’s fans directly in the gut. When he was drafted 2nd overall by the NBA champion Boston Celtics on June 17, everything was in front of him. When he was pronounced dead less than 48 hours later, everything was gone. 

Last month marked the 35th anniversary of Bias’s untimely death. While working as an intern on a podcast series about his legacy this summer, I was assigned to comb through the comment section of a Washington Post article about how Bias’s story still resonates, searching for comments that shared both good and bad memories of Bias. 

I was blown away by what I read. 

There were more than 100 comments on the article, and nearly a third of them provided personal reflections on Bias’s playing days at Maryland and the aftermath of his death. 

Some Post subscribers simply shared their reaction to learning what happened, demonstrating that the news affected everyone differently. 

“[I] still remember where I was when I heard the news,” one commenter wrote. “I was a Maryland alum going to graduate school at UNC. Heard it on the radio and had to pull over.” 

The comments showed that it didn’t matter if people knew Len personally, because they thought they knew how his story would play out. They thought he would become a star for one of the greatest franchises in professional sports. 

When that was no longer possible, confusion and disbelief hit hard. And those feelings didn’t go away overnight. 

“I remember being shocked at the news as I sat at my parents’ kitchen table shortly after graduating from HS,” another one wrote. “I started at UMCP 2 months later and still remember how much it dominated campus life for a good while.”

I imagine this commenter sitting at his parents’ kitchen table similarly to how I sat in the airport in January 2020 — with his jaw as low as it could go and his body unwilling to move. 

And as a current University of Maryland student, I can attest that reminders of Bias and the tragedy persist all over campus. 

It’s impossible to attend a Maryland basketball game without seeing hundreds of Bias jerseys scattered among the Xfinity Center crowd. It’s impossible to walk past Cole Field House and not think of its best days — when Bias played there. And it’s impossible to walk past Washington Hall and not think of June 19, 1986. 

For fans both new and old, his story resonates.

“It still strikes viscerally with me as I remember the entire episode,” commenter ‘jbull’ wrote. “For those of us who are hard-core Terps fans dating back to the late 60s it still resonates and it is actually uplifting to know that perhaps there are positive lessons that can come out of it.”

Some subscribers wrote about those lessons in their comments. Bias’s death served as a warning to some, especially those who looked up to him. 

“I was an aspiring high school basketball player in the 80’s and Len Bias was one of my idols,” someone wrote. “After learning of death by cocaine, I swore to myself right then and there in my parents house that I would never ever touch cocaine. And I never have.”

The lessons aren’t limited to people who grew up in the 1980s, however. As long as someone wants to tell his story, young people can continue to learn from what happened. 

It’s difficult to think of a tragedy that has helped more people, and that’s part of the reason why his story is still being told in 2021. We all want to shape our own legacy, so we keep Bias’s legacy alive. 

Len Bias gave a lot during his 22 years of life, but he’s given more, to more people, in his 35 years of death.

Len Bias’ Final Night

June 6, 2021

Excerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias, by Dave Ungrady

According to a Washington Post story, Bias on the Monday before the draft spent the day in New York with his father, James, attending draft-related events. Bias spent at least part of the night in his hotel room, watching television.

Bias stayed in Boston the day after the NBA draft to meet with representatives of Reebok and the Boston media. The following description of how Bias’s last night evolved is based on testimony by Long at the trial of Tribble, according to reports, and from portions of the documentary Without Bias.

Bias returned to his dormitory suite at Washington Hall after 10:30 p.m. with a bag full of Reebok shoes and Boston Celtic jerseys. David Gregg, a freshman basketball player, and Maryland football players Brian (Keeta) Covington and Ben Jefferson were there eating crabs. Bias wanted them to have a party, Long testified. “We’re going to celebrate,” Bias said to Gregg, Covington and Jeffer- son. About 20 minutes later, Bias left the suite at about 11:30 p.m. with Madelyne Woods, a friend of Bias’s who stopped by to visit. Bias said he had to “go drain his lizard.” “We knew what he meant,” Long said. “He said he hadn’t been with a girl in three days.”

Long and Gregg walked to a nearby convenience store to buy soft drinks and went to sleep when they returned. At around 2:30 a.m., Bias, who was with Tribble, knocked on Long’s bedroom door and said “Wake the [expletive] up. We’re gonna celebrate.”

Bias then woke up Gregg and told Gregg and Long to get some beer from a nearby refrigerator. Long and Gregg saw a mound of cocaine on a mirror on the desk when they returned to Long’s room. After Gregg asked Bias and Tribble where the cocaine came from, Long said, “Tribble said something about getting it from the bottom of a stash and they planned to get a kilo the next day.” Long, Gregg, Bias and Tribble started snorting the cocaine through cut straws until about 3 a.m. when Jeff Baxter knocked on Long’s door. Long told Tribble to put the cocaine away when Baxter knocked because the players knew Baxter did not use drugs. Baxter stayed for about 15 minutes.

The others then resumed snorting cocaine. Tribble went to the bathroom, stumbled back to Long’s room and said, “We’re all [expletive] up.” Long added that they all felt much the same way. They snorted cocaine until sometime after 6 a.m. Bias then rested on Long’s bed for about five minutes before struggling to go to the bathroom because he was wobbly. Bias then suffered a seizure. Long placed a pair of scissors in Bias’s mouth to prevent him from biting his tongue while Gregg held Bias’s feet. Tribble called his mother who told him to call the county emergency number for an am- bulance. Tribble made the emergency call at 6:32 a.m.

911: P.G. County Emergency

Tribble: Yes, I’d like to have an ambulance come; (to someone else) what, what room? What room?

(Answer from the background: Washington Hall)

Tribble: What? Eleven-oh-three Washington Hall. It’s an emergency. It’s Len Bias and he just went to Boston and he needs some assistance.

911: What are you talking about?
Tribble: Huh?
911: What are you talking about?
Tribble: I’m talking about, uh, someone needs, Len Bias needs help. 911: Well, it doesn’t matter what his name is, what’s the problem? Tribble: He’s not breathing right.

911: What’s the address?
Tribble: Eleven-oh-three Washington Hall on Maryland University’s campus.
911: Washington Hall?
Tribble: Yes, sir.
911: What’s your name?
Tribble: My name is Brian.
911: Brian what?
Tribble: Tribble.
911: Tribble?
Tribble: Yes, sir.
911: What’s your phone number, Brian?
Tribble: I’m, I’m in Len Bias’s room. I don’t know the phone number there.
911: What’s the room number?
Tribble: Eleven-oh-three.
911: Eleven-oh-three?
Tribble: Yes, sir.
911: OK. What’s, it’s just Washington Hall, what’s the address of Washington Hall?
Tribble: It’s, uh, I don’t know, it’s no address. It’s just Washington Hall. Come up by Hungry Herman’s and go straight up there and it’s on the right-hand side, so please come as soon as you can. It’s no joke.

911: OK, Washington Hall apartment number eleven-oh-three?

Tribble: Yes, they’re giving him mouth-to-mouth. You can hear it now. Hear ’em? This is Len Bias. You have to get him back to life. There’s no way he can die. Seriously, sir, please come quick.

911: OK, Washington Hall and apartment, uh room number, eleven-oh-three. Tribble: Uh-huh.

911: That’s one thousand, one hundred and three?
Tribble: Uh-huh. Eleven-oh-three. One thousand, one hundred and three. 911: All right. We’ll have an ambulance out, all right?
Tribble: Excuse me?
911: We’ll have an ambulance out.
Tribble: OK.
911: Thank you.
Tribble: Yeah.

After the ambulance took Bias to the hospital, Long cleaned the empty beer bottles and cut straws from his room and emptied them into a dumpster behind the dormitory. Bias was pronounced dead at the hospital at 8:55 a.m. Cocaine intoxication was later determined to be the cause.

Stories of Len Bias during 1986 Barnstorming Tour Paint a Complex Portrait of the Young Star

April 30, 2021

By Georgia Braun

It’s been over three decades since University of Maryland basketball legend Len Bias died from a cocaine induced heart attack the night after being drafted by No. 2 overallby the Boston Celtics. The future Hall of Famer’s story has been told time and time again as a cautionary tale at school assemblies, by anti-drug champions, and to the children of parents who lived through the event. 

A story that hasn’t been told very often, if at all, was about one of Bias’ last public appearances on a basketball court. It came during the ACC Barnstorming Tour before his death.

The ACC Barnstorming tour, which goes back more than 40 years, is a series of casual games and contests of the league’s departing stars – many of them future NBA players – against top high school players or local talent throughout the state of North Carolina, where the league office and three of its founding member schools are located.

It was always a great event…it was a fun, fun time,” recalled former Duke star Johnny Dawkins, who was part of that 1986 tour. “It’s kind of a celebration of all ACC players. And so yeah, when he decided to come down and play, it just made it that much more special, to be able to reunite with him in that type of environment and not just be competing against them, which we had done for four straight years.”

Dawkins said it was just part of the leadup to the 1986 NBA Draft in New York City on June 17.  

“You get a chance to celebrate each other, celebrate the moment, you know, college is winding down for us,” said Dawkins, now the head coach at Central Florida. “A new chapter is about to begin and we’re kind of having fun, you know, kind of that in between college and NBA.”

The atmosphere of the Barnstorming Tour has been compared to a Harlem Globetrotters game, complete with loose rules, showboating and non-competitive play.  To this day, barnstorming is a charitable event, and in ‘86, portions of the proceeds went to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. 

And as he did during his four years at Maryland, Bias made an impression on fans, peers and even the tour’s founder.  

Mike Sumner, who’s been organizing the event since it first started, looks back on the time he spent with Bias fondly. The young star stayed at Sumner’s home in North Carolina, where the games took place, and as a thank you, Bias gifted his host one of his practice jerseys. Sumner asked a Bias fan, former Duke star Nolan Smith, to wear the Bias jersey during a Barnstorming game in Northern Virginia in 2011. In a bold move for a Duke player wearing any Maryland jersey, Smith complied.

“He would sit and talk with the kids with muscular dystrophy. He went to schools and talked to kids about life as a prominent basketball player,” says Sumner of Bias. “He was a prince of a fellow, a wonderful individual.” 

He also recalls Bias happily staying late to sign autographs and talk to fans. During one game, he wheeled a boy with muscular dystrophy onto the court, passed him the ball, and dunked from the return pass. 

Though that is not the only life Bias impacted on the tour. 

Chris Washburn, a first round draft pick in 1986, was a long time admirer of Bias, and the two became friends before a matchup between The Terrapins and the Wolfpack. While in town for Barnstorming, Bias made a point of visiting his fellow ACC athlete. 

Washburn was a sophomore at N.C. State when he heard a knock on his door late one night. Standing there was his idol, Len Bias. “I had a 7:50 class that morning…let’s just say I never made it to that class,” Washburn recently said in an interview. According to the former NBA player, that was the night Bias introduced him to cocaine, a drug that destroyed his promising career. 

After being drafted third overall by the Golden State Warriors, Washburn played all of 72 games, eventually being banned by the league after failing three drug tests. He often tops the list for biggest draft busts in NBA history. 

His struggles with addiction led to jail sentences, homeless shelters and 14 stints in rehab. Washburn eventually got clean, a job coaching youth leagues and opened up a restaurant in his hometown, but he’s no stranger to rock bottom. 

Washburn says his decision to experiment with cocaine for the first time was largely due to the fact that it was Len Bias suggesting he try it, dismantling the myth that the night Bias died was the only time he’d used the drug. 

Bias’ death two days after the 1986 NBA Draft – when he was picked second overall by the Boston Celtics, one spot behind Brad Daugherty of North Carolina, one ahead of Washburn and eight in front of Dawkins – caused a restructuring of Maryland’s athletic department, turned the lives of his teammates upside down and even helped pass the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.

Though Bias is most commonly remembered simply as an otherworldly talent who made a fatal misstep – the main character in an epic tragedy. The first round draft pick’s place as a superstar on Red Auerbach’s dream team was never a reality, and instead, Bias became a kind of mythic figure.  

It’s hard not to sensationalize the untimely death of a talented young man, and it’s true that his story is a powerful one that illustrates the dangers of drug use and the importance of smart decision making. Like his mother, Lonise Bias, who’s now a motivational speaker has said, “[Len] was able to do more in death than he was in life.” 

Though in the attempts to paint Bias as nothing more than a tragic figure, we lose sight of the fact that he was a college aged man in his twenties who displayed humanity as he fumbled his way into adulthood. The stories told by those whose lives he impacted during the Barnstorming Tour of 1986 reveal the complexities of someone who’s too often remembered solely for his spectacular talent and fatal mistake.

The legacy of Bias is a complicated one, and the ACC Barnstorming Tour of 1986 is a perfect example of this. 

A Len Bias Fan Remembers His Hero

March 28, 2021

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.

An Unfitting End for Bias

March 16, 2021

By Don Markus

Covering the NCAA basketball tournament over a span of nearly 40 years can create a blur, a highlight reel in one’s mind filled with memorable plays by soon-to-be legendary players and down-to-the-buzzer endings with big shots and big misses. 

The first Final Four of the 20 or so I covered was in 1982, and coincided with Michael Jordan, then a North Carolina freshman, hitting the go-ahead jumper to beat Georgetown at the Superdome in New Orleans.

A decade later, there was Duke moving on to the Final Four, where it would win its second straight national championship. But first the Blue Devils survived Kentucky in Philadelphia on Christian Laettner’s last-second jumper in the Elite 8.

And a decade after that, there was Maryland – the team I wound up covering for around 20 of my 35 years at the Baltimore Sun  – winning its first (and still only) national men’s title over Indiana behind an indomitable guard named Juan Dixon..

So please forgive me if I don’t quite remember much about the last game Len Bias ever played, a desultory second-round defeat for the Terps to UNLV in Long Beach, Calif. It happened 35 years ago today.

Still, I certainly recall some things about that trip. 

The media hotel was the Queen Mary, the iconic luxury ocean liner that had seen its better days. I also remember tooling around in a convertible that ESPN broadcaster Michael Wilbon had rented during the trip, and how my esteemed Washington Post colleague was forced to put the top up because of torrential rain.

More related to the games themselves, I have a vague memory of Bias sitting in the team’s dressing room at the Long Beach Arena with a towel covering his head after a 70-64 loss to the Runnin’ Rebels. Bias had already stopped talking to the media late in what had been an up-and-down season for the Terps.

But the game itself and what Bias did on the court for more than 39 minutes before fouling out in the waning seconds had largely been forgotten, mainly because his 31-point, 12 rebound performance was far from the best I had seen from this wondrous athlete. 

That happens when you score 35 points to help Maryland upset then No. 1 North Carolina to give the Tar Heels their first defeat in the newly-open Dean E. Smith Center. That happens when you pour in 41 against then second ranked Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

I went back and watched the UNLV game on You Tube one day earlier this month and what I saw actually surprised me. Bias looked human, not the 6-8, 220-pound Superman I remember for so many of those games that season, the only one in which I covered him.

Jerry Tarknian’s “amoeba  defense”- a 1-3-1 zone with a variety of wrinkles- did its best to    frustrate Bias, limiting his touches early on and then often throwing an extra defender at him whenever he was ready to shoot.

Bias missed 12 of the first 16 shots he took and only began to heat up, after the Runnin’ Rebels erased a 41-33 lead for the Terps by following Maryland’s 14-0 run with a 13-0 run of their own. Bias carried the Terps in the final minutes, scoring 19 of Maryland’s last 21 points. Still, a breakaway reverse dunk in the second half was the only time Bias resembled Jordan.

Or even looked like himself.  

Bias guards Anthony Jones, who led UNLV with 25 points.

Just as Jordan wasn’t the best player on the court in his last college game two years earlier – coming against Indiana in the Sweet 16 – neither was Bias that day. Anthony Jones, a transfer from Georgetown, scored 25 and pulled down 10 rebounds for UNLV in victory.

While watching the game, I saw a player who tried to use his athleticism to beat UNLV and forced more than a few shots and passes. I saw a player who seemed more detached than I could recall, that effervescent smile or intimidating sneer nowhere to be found.

As was my custom covering college hoops for the Sun, I went on to the Final Four after Bias and the Terps went home. I remember a freshman named Pervis Ellison – Never Nervous Pervis – frustrating Duke in the title game in Dallas.

A little over two months later, two days after being drafted No 2 overall by the Boston Celtics, Bias was dead from what the medical examiner called cocaine intoxication. And we are, 35 years later, left with memories of many games Bias dominated.

Sadly, the last game he played wasn’t one of them. 

Embracing the Len Bias Legacy Challenge

March 10, 2021

by Dave Ungrady

An exclusive excerpt from an update of the book, Born Ready: The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias. The update will be published by the end of 2021.

In early March of 2014, The Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce organized a town hall event on the University of Maryland – College Park campus highlighted by a speech by Dr. Mark Emmert, the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Among those in attendance was Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, other athletic officials from Maryland and those tied to the local business and educational communities.

As a member of a chamber committee that hosted the event, I volunteered to help manage the media. I also brought along copies of the earlier version of this book, hoping to promote it on site. I was wary, though, about how Maryland athletic officials might react it to its presence.

Since the book was released in December 2011, the department had unsurprisingly greeted it with a consistent chill. Any attempt to promote it at a department-related event had been blocked. The death of Bias, after all, was  considered one of the more traumatic moments in the school’s rich athletic history.

When I saw Anderson near the check-in area, I reached out my hand and introduced myself, saying I was a former Terps athlete and author of the book on Bias. I had sent Anderson a copy of the book soon after its release but heard nothing in response, and I wondered if he had read it. I expected a standard response, with little more than a “nice to meet you.”

His response surprised me. “Ah, I read that book,” he said engagingly. 

I was further surprised when Anderson added with conviction, “We’ve got to get Len Bias in the Hall of Fame.”

“I agree with you,” I replied, and then offered assistance to help make it happen. 

Maryland’s Athletic Hall of Fame selection committee had shunned Bias since he was first eligible for selection in 1996. I had been told by some committee members that the reluctance came from a few other members who were stuck on a bylaw that stated a candidate could be rejected for bringing “embarrassment or disrepute” to the university regardless of their athletic accomplishments.        

Anderson pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to me saying, “take this.” No explanation or reason followed. I thanked him, not knowing what it was. In the midst of a brief crush to register members of the media, I was unable to engage Anderson further, and placed the object in a pocket. 

Later I discovered that it was a large coin emblazoned with the Terps mascot on one side and on the other side a large letter M surrounded by the words: “Presented by the Athletic Director. For Excellence.”

Anderson had given me a challenge coin. The coins symbolize support of an organization represented on the coin. They are also used, among others, to recognize a special achievement.

The next day I asked Anderson’s office for clarification about his intent for giving me the coin. An assistant responded in an email that Anderson said he gave me the coin “…for the work you are doing for Len Bias.”

After I completed the first edition of this book, I thought little about the chances of Bias earning induction into Maryland’s athletics hall of fame due to the book’s publishing. But as time passed, momentum moved towards an impending induction for Bias. Perhaps the book created awareness of Bias’ omission from the Hall, or perhaps it was more a matter of the passage of time, and eventual acceptance of the full legacy of Bias.

Either way, I embraced Anderson’s challenge to properly recognize the mixed legacy of Bias. And with Anderson’s support, momentum was clearly moving toward a Terps Hall of Fame induction. In July, 2014, Maryland’s athletic department announced that Bias the following October would in fact receive his long-awaited induction.

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.