Posts Tagged ‘Len Bias’

Walt Williams

November 15, 2013

A Dynasty Crumbles

Bias was the reason Walt Williams, a Washington, D.C., native who grew up watching Bias play, enrolled at Maryland two years after the star died. Williams, who helped keep Maryland basketball viable during the down years following Bias’s death, confirmed Driesell’s theory. “I was a very big Len Bias fan,” says the man who would break Bias’s Maryland single-season scoring record and is now a broadcaster on Maryland’s basketball games. “It was a big thing for me to go to Maryland and follow in his footsteps. That was a part of me staying at Maryland.  Maryland had gone through so many things with [the death of] Bias. People forget all the good he did. He made me feel like I can do well in basketball because I saw him do it.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

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Keith Booth

November 14, 2013

A Reminder to Stay Focused

In April 2011, Booth talked excitedly about the day he met Bias, his hero. It happened during a promotional appearance by Bias and teammate Keith Gatlin at a sandwich shop in East Baltimore. Booth, an impressionable 10-year-old, arrived three hours early to secure a spot at the front of the line for the 11 a.m. event. When he met Bias, he told him that he would play hard and one day be a Terrapin just like his idol, and, yup, that he would at least tie Bias’s scoring record. Booth knew the owner of the sub shop and was given close access to Bias and Gatlin once the signing ended. He says the moment is recorded in a picture of Booth with Bias and Gatlin and several others, which hung on a wall in the shop for almost a decade.

When his older sister woke him on the morning of June 19, 1986, after hearing on the news that Bias had died, Booth grew hysterical. He cried uncontrollably as he called his mother at work to tell her the tragic news. Booth was 11 years old. He saw the kinds of people where he grew up in his East Baltimore neighborhood who used drugs. They weren’t like Bias. Before Bias died, the thought never crossed the boy’s mind that elite athletes used drugs. He used Bias’s death as a reminder to stay focused on basketball and his grades, and to continue a lifestyle that avoided drug use. “Once I understood what it was and how it happened that he died, it made me never want to touch a drug ever or abuse my body,” he says. “It affected my life to help me become the person and man I am today.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

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The Great Traffic Light

November 13, 2013

“Leonard Saved My Life”

Lefty Driesell, Len Bias’ coach at Maryland, finds solace in Len’s legacy when he tells the following story. During the early summer of 2010, a man approached Driesell as they walked out of church near Driesell’s home in Virginia Beach. “Someone said, ‘Aren’t you Lefty Driesell? I was always a big Maryland fan, and Leonard was one of my favorite players,’ ” says Driesell.

The man explained that shortly before Bias’s death, he had reached a personal low, losing his job and his family due to a cocaine addiction. When friends told the man that Bias had died, he immediately stopped abusing cocaine. Says Driesell: “He said Leonard saved his life.”

Who knows how many lives have been saved, and how many more will be for decades to come? Brian Straus had no connection to Bias other than growing up in the Washington area and watching him play on TV and was not a rabid fan of either the Terrapins or the Celtics. He was raised in white upper-middle-class suburbia. But when I told Straus, a longtime friend and an accomplished soccer journalist, that I was writing a book about the legacy of Bias, his immediate reaction surprised me.

“He was the reason I never used cocaine,” Straus says. “He was exactly the reason when I was at parties in college at [the University of Pennsylvania] and saw people do cocaine and I didn’t try it. He was the great traffic light, the devil on your shoulder saying don’t do it. It wasn’t an essay question. It was just like a punch in the gut that told you don’t touch this ever.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)Find out about the Born Ready Hoops Festival  Nov. 22-24, that will honor Len’s legacy as a basketball player.

50 for 50 – Len Bias’ Golden Moments #44…High School Coach Bob Wagner

November 12, 2013

Through Nov. 18, Len Bias’ 50th birthday, the Born Ready Blog will provide each day a new item that helped define Len’s legacy, 50 in total.

Part of him died when Len died.

For a year and a half after Len Bias died, Bob Wagner fought a deep depression. He stopped coaching and teaching and returned to school, taking computer-technician classes. In the evenings, he worked as a night manager at College Park Towers, an apartment complex that catered to students who attended his alma mater, the University of Maryland. “That’s where I disappeared,” says Wagner, Bias’s head coach at Northwestern High School. When not at work or in school, Wagner retreated to his house in Hyattsville as much as possible. “I wanted to get away from [high-school] kids,” he says. “I didn’t want anything to do with basketball. I didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t have much of a life at all. I was sleeping, studying and working. … There wasn’t anything I could do.”

Wagner says he still thinks about Bias every day. Sometimes, he cries. After Bias died, he endured typical stages that accompany a loss. “Depression. I questioned myself, what did I not see, what really transpired,” he says. “Not knowing any of that side of him partying. In those days, I was the big brother to all the kids. We had a unifying spirit around basketball. It gave us a positive identity within the community. That’s what hurt a lot of people with the tragedy. Here was a P.G. County public-school kid who did just as much if not more than a kid that might have gone to DeMatha or St. John’s or some other top D.C.-area program. He wasn’t given anything along the way. He had to work for what he got. It hurt the whole community. He was part of us. Most of us were part of him. So when he died, part of us died with him. The pain of his loss and the death of hope. He represented hope for a lot of kids.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)Find out about the Born Ready Hoops Festival  Nov. 22-24, that will honor Len’s legacy as a basketball player.

Bob Wade

November 11, 2013

The Wade Experiment Fades

Bob Wade’s legacy at Maryland as its basketball coach for three years, following the death of Bias, is mixed. His NCAA violations will be remembered for setting back the basketball program for years. Wade called the group of men’s basketball coaches in the conference an “old boy’s network” in a Charlotte Observer report and added that his time in the ACC was difficult. But as the first black head coach of a men’s basketball team in the conference he can be considered a cultural pioneer, despite appearing uncomfortable in that role.

Even Robert Slaughter, who hired Wade, ultimately questioned the wisdom of the move. “In retrospect, it might have been an impossible situation for Bob,” he told the Washington Post in January 1990. “Bob followed a coaching legend. He was black. He was appointed by a black chancellor. He’s from a high school. He’s hired one day before practice begins. And the players had gone through hell after Leonard’s death. Throwing Bob in the middle of that was like throwing a piece of raw meat to a pack of lions. You’re going to get chewed up if you don’t do things perfectly. I don’t think Bob got the support he needed from many people. There were people within the athletic department as well as outside the department who did not want him to succeed.”

Bob Wade’s legacy as a beloved high-school basketball coach, however, continues to grow. In 2008 some of Wade’s former players at Dunbar honored the coach at a roast in Greenbelt, Maryland, a town about five miles from College Park. Those attending included former NBA player Muggsy Bogues and former Maryland star Graham. As of the fall of 2011 Wade worked as the athletic director with Baltimore City Public Schools. “He loved all of us,” Graham said in a Baltimore Sun report promoting the event. “He cared about us. He made a difference in the lives of a lot of young men in more ways than just coaching basketball.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

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Congressional Misstep

November 10, 2013

Congress Passes the Anti-Drug Abuse Act

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, passed in direct response to the death of Len Bias, reestablished mandatory minimum sentences for first-time drug offenders that had been removed from federal law in 1970. It stated that a person manufacturing or distributing at least 500 grams of powder cocaine faced a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, with a maximum 40 years, and those manufacturing or distributing at least 5,000 grams of powder cocaine received a 10-year minimum sentence, with a maximum of life imprisonment. A person manufacturing or distributing at least 5 grams of crack cocaine received the five-year mandatory minimum while those manufacturing or distributing at least 50 grams of that form of the drug received the minimum 10-year sentence. For sentences longer than the minimum, there was no hope of parole; it had been abolished in the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. By comparison, someone would have to possess 100 grams of heroin or 100 kilos of marijuana to receive the same five-year sentence with no parole as someone found with 5 grams of crack cocaine.

The 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act applied the mandatory sentences of the 1986 act to anyone who was a member of a drug-trafficking conspiracy. Under the law, if a defendant worked as a doorman to a crack house but never sold, used or purchased the drug, he was liable for all the crack sold during the time the group operated the crack house, even before and after he worked as a doorman. Within six years of passage of the conspiracy amendment in 1988, the number of drug cases in federal prisons increased by 300 percent. From 1986 to 1998, that number increased 450 percent.

Eric E. Sterling, a federal sentencing reform advocate, from 1979 to 1989 was counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, and was also a principal aide in developing the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988. In 1989 he switched roles from federal policy wonk to consumer advocate when he became president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, a private, nonprofit group that promotes education about criminal justice problems.

He admits now that passing the anti-drug bills was a mistake. “The legacy of this legislation should be whether or not it has succeeded in making the United States a safer, healthier place for its citizens,” says Sterling, who has become an advocate for sentencing reform. “From my perspective, it has not. It failed. I did not think at that time that mandatory sentencing was a good idea. But the members of Congress and the Judiciary committee were my clients and that was my assignment. I had certain kinds of concerns and reservations about that kind of approach. This weighs on me a great deal.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

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Changes in Terps Athletics

November 10, 2013

Maryland Athletics Restructures

By the early 1990s, that culture was one of discomfort and uncertainty. A big reason was perhaps the most significant move made by Perkins, toward the end of his three years at Maryland. On May 16, 1990, he announced that varsity teams would be restructured into four tiers. That day, he also said the school would eliminate athletic scholarships in eight of its 23 varsity sports and would reduce scholarship money by 70 percent in five others. Perkins said a budget crisis made worse by NCAA sanctions against the men’s basketball team prompted the moves.

Six sports – football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s lacrosse, women’s volleyball and women’s field hockey – were placed in the first tier. Those sports, which had a history of competing for NCAA national honors, received $1.5 million of the $1.871 million available for scholarships. In the second tier, four sports – women’s lacrosse, men’s wrestling, and men’s and women’s soccer – each received $64,000 in scholarship money, representing a 15% cut in aid. These sports were expected to contend for ACC championships.

Third-tier sports would have their scholarship aid reduced by 70 percent: baseball, men’s and women’s swimming, and men’s and women’s cross-country would each receive $25,000 in scholarship money and compete regionally. Men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track, men’s golf, women’s gymnastics, and men’s and women’s tennis were placed in the lowest level and would operate without scholarships. They would compete locally except for ACC competitions.

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)

Boston Celtics

November 8, 2013

A Dynasty Crumbles

The 1985-86 Celtics were arguably one of the best teams in NBA history, compiling a 67-15 record, notching the second-most wins in a season in team history and winning their third consecutive division title on the way to becoming NBA champions. In 1986-87, the Celtics were considered strong favorites to win their fourth NBA title in seven seasons and almost did, winning their division again before losing to the Detroit Pistons 4-2 in the NBA finals. By the mid-1990s, the Celtics–which has won more NBA titles than any other franchise– had evolved to become one of the worst teams in the NBA, in part due to death of Reggie Lewis in 1993.

Steve Bulpett wrote about the death of Bias for the Boston Herald, where he has covered the Celtics for nearly three decades. The day Bias was drafted in 1986, Bulpett flew on the same airplane from New York to Boston as Bias. A couple of days later, he traveled to College Park to report on the player’s death. He remembers after a long day of exhaustive reporting telling himself that Bias’s death was the worst thing he would ever have to write about while covering the Celtics. “I spoke too soon,” says Bulpett. “Bias’s death was a shock, but Lewis’s death was more traumatic not only because he had played for the Celtics but because he played for Northeastern (University on Boston). He was part of the community. Bias to Celtics fans was a ghost. Lewis was the guy they lived with for years.”

The season after Lewis died, the Celtics finished 32-50, its worst record since the 1978-79 team that won only 29 games. Through the 2001 season, the Celtics never won more than 36 games in a season, and employed four different coaches. They recorded losing records for eight consecutive seasons. The 1996-97 team won only 15 games, the lowest total in the team’s history. Dee Brown, a sixth-year guard, said in a Boston Globe story that people called the Celtics a “laughingstock. We had no direction.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)

No. 2 NBA Pick

November 7, 2013

Celtics Draft a Star

After NBA Commissioner David Stern announced Bias as Boston’s pick, the crowd roared. The newest Celtic uncoiled his long, lean frame from his arena seat, walking slowly as he approached the stage, smiling. Someone handed him a Celtics cap. Cameras flashed as he shook Stern’s hand. A couple of minutes later, during his first comments in a television interview, Bias was asked by former NBA star Rick Barry why he wanted to play for the Celtics. “They’re a good team and they got, uh, good, uh, supporting players,” he said sheepishly, stammering a bit as he toyed with the Celtics cap. “I can go up there and sit on the bench and whether I go in and play or not, and I learn a lot from, ah, the players there or learn a lot from playing myself.” Barry asked him if he could accept the role of being a benchwarmer for a while. Bias chuckled and said, “I guess I’m gonna have to.”

Asked where he needed to improve, Bias said, “Well, I think I need to improve more on my ball-handling and my all-around play.” When Barry made some closing comments at the end of the interview, Bias smiled before peering to the side and biting his lip. Later, he said the first thing he wanted to buy was a Mercedes-Benz automobile. As for the Celtics, they felt they already had their prize.

“He’s going to be a star someday, no question about it,” Auerbach said in an interview from Boston. “He gives us a lot of support. He can play some guard, he can play some forward, he can play a power forward, a quick forward. He is the best athlete, in my opinion, in the whole draft, and he’s going to really help this ball club. … He’ll get his playing time. … We’ve had guys sit around for a while. Except in this particular case, he’s gonna play. In fact, he’s ready to play now. Larry Bird said if we drafted this kid, he’d even come to rookie camp. He’s very high on the kid. He’s the guy we wanted, and we got him.” Bias seemed to accept a reserve role as a Celtics rookie. “I’m ready to take the role of a learner now,” he said in the Boston Globe the day of the draft. “I can learn from great players here.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)

Jay Bias

November 6, 2013

Another Bias son dies tragically

Windowless and bleacher-less, the drab beige box with the synthetic floor isn’t much to look at. But typical of basketball courts in the rec centers of middle-class black communities for more than a quarter century, it’s not the floors and walls that count. It’s what happens on the former and what decorates the latter. On the far wall of the court at Columbia Park Recreation Center – The Rec – in Landover is a poster announcing the dedication of the Wharton “Mack” Lee Madkins Gymnasium on November 25, 2002.

For decades, Madkins was the director of the center and helped coach Bias and others in both football and basketball. The poster contains a collage of photos that reflect Madkins’s influence on the thousands of children he guided during his reign at The Rec. Madkins poses by a mantle of trophies. Madkins comforts a young boy. Madkins stands with his assistant coaches in a football team picture. Madkins tucks a football under one arm as he gently places the other around the shoulder of a young, smiling player, above words attributed to Madkins that read: “They may leave, but they always find a way back.”

Many of those who Madkins coached or mentored through the years have indeed returned to the Columbia Park area. Some, such as Waller and Walker, not only returned but took on roles similar to that of Madkins, teaching younger boys about sports and life. But some were not so lucky. One, Jay Bias, is part of the picture on the bottom right of the poster. He flashes an easy smile and wears a green T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Boston Celtics” in bright, white letters. Jay’s legend at The Rec is as profound as Len’s, for different yet sadly parallel reasons. Neither made it back.

In late 1990 Jay had gone to a jewelry store in Prince George’s Plaza to check on an engagement ring he had ordered for the girlfriend he had dated throughout high school. In the store Bias saw Jerry Tyler, who accused Jay of flirting with his wife, a store clerk. The two men argued. As Bias walked away with two friends, Tyler said “C’mon outside, c’mon outside,” one of the friends, Andre Campbell, said in a news report. Bias responded, “Look, I’m just purchasing a ring… all this stuff ain’t necessary, man.” Campbell said that minutes later someone in a Mercedes-Benz drove up next to the car in which Jay sat in the passenger seat while waiting at a stop sign outside the mall. Someone from the car fired, killing him.

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

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