A Look Back at the Tragedy of Maryland Basketball Player Len Bias

The 2022 NBA Draft gets underway on Thursday, and the childhood dreams of many college ballers will be fulfilled when they hear their names called and punch their tickets to the show.

While it’s an exciting time for the future NBA stars, if you’re a Maryland Terrapins fan, it’s hard not to reminisce at this time of year about the greatest NBA player that never was.

Back in 1986, Terrapins star forward Len Bias had the world on a string. After finishing his stellar career with the Terps as the all-time leading scorer and arguably one of the best college careers ever, Bias was selected second overall by the Boston Celtics.

Just 48 hours later, he was pronounced dead at the age of 22.

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College Career

After graduating from Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Md., Bias played four seasons for the Terrapins between 1982 and 1986.

After finding his way as a freshman, Bias made a monster leap as a sophomore, averaging 15.3 points per game with 4.5 rebounds.

By his junior year, Bias had developed into an All-American. He would lead the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in scoring and was named ACC Player of the Year.

As a senior, he averaged 23.2 points per game and once again earned All-American honors while winning his second ACC Player of the Year award.

He finished his college ball as a two-time ACC Player of the Year, two-time First Team All-ACC, ACC Athlete of the Year, and ACC Tournament MVP.

Drug Overdose and Death

On June 17, 1986, Bias was selected second overall by the Boston Celtics. Celtics’ General Manager Red Auerbach had long coveted the phenom and had traded up in the draft to secure him.

After meeting with Reebok the day after the draft to discuss a multi-million-dollar endorsement deal, Bias returned home to Maryland to celebrate.

He attended an off-campus gathering at around 2 a.m. on June 19 and reportedly returned to his dorm about an hour later. There he was joined by teammates, and they snorted cocaine for the next three to four hours.

Sometime after 6 a.m., Bias collapsed and had a seizure while talking to teammate Terry Long. Long-time friend Brian Tribble called the police at 6:32 a.m. and reported that Bias was unconscious and not breathing. Bias never woke up.

Bias was pronounced dead at 8:55 a.m. at Leland Memorial Hospital. The official cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia induced by a cocaine overdose.

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The tragic death of Bias not only shocked the basketball world but also left a trail of carnage in its wake.

Teammates Terry Long and David Gregg were charged with cocaine possession and obstruction of justice, while friend and drug supplier Brian Tribble was charged with possession and intent to distribute.

Furthermore, State’s Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr. said that Maryland head coach Lefty Driesel had ordered all remaining cocaine remnants to be cleared from Bias’ room just hours after his death.

The scandal and controversy led to the resignation of the 17-year head coach, as well as Maryland’s Athletic Director, Dick Dull.

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Michael Jordan Comparisons

It’s hard to imagine anyone on Michael Jordan’s level, but in many people’s eyes, Len Bias had that potential.

It’s impossible to know how Bias would have performed at the NBA level, but by all indications from college, he was on his way to superstardom.

The 6-8, 210-pound forward had a gifted combination of size, strength, speed, shooting ability, and sheer athleticism.

Legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski called Len Bias and Michael Jordan the two greatest players in ACC history and believed that Bias would have been one of the best players in the NBA.

The comparisons didn’t stop with Coach K. NBA legend Walt Williams told Basketball Network he thinks Bias could have been the best NBA player of all time.

“I think those guys certainly would have pushed each other to the max,” Williams said. “The thing about Len Bias, when you compare him to Michael Jordan, I think he was a little bit ahead of Michael when they were in college with his skillset.  The jump shot that Bias had was just the prettiest thing you could ever see.”

While the comparison and speculation have run rampant decades after his untimely death, we, unfortunately, didn’t get to see one of the greatest NBA rivalries that could have been.

AP Photo

About the Author

Ryan Hagen

Ryan Hagen is a freelance writer for Maryland Sharp. He’s spent most of his career writing in roles that have ranged from copywriter at a boutique ad agency to corporate communications at a large oil firm. His true passion is sports, and he’s now been writing in the sports gaming industry for the last couple of years. He enjoys sports betting and usually bets a little too much when he loses and not quite enough when he wins.