From Legend to Tragedy

Filmmaker Kirk Fraser Prepares Len Bias’ Biography

Fitted in a GQesque white pinstriped suit and black tie, Len Bias put on a green Boston Celtics cap alongside NBA commissioner David Stern. This scene served as a lasting image of a Maryland hero, compared to Michael Jordan, who died close to 48 hours after becoming the NBA’s number two pick.

“I really was hoping that it was Boston, and my dream came true,” said Len Bias in the trailer for filmmaker Kirk Fraser’s biography about “The legend you know, the story you didn’t.”

Bias’ dream tragically became replaced with the sounds of friend Brian Tribble’s 911 emergency pleas. “This is Len Bias. You have to get him back to life. There’s no way he can die.”

“I think he passed out a couple times but [awoke] and said “I’m Strong, I’m Strong,” noted Errol Watkis, recounting the scene portrayed after Bias celebrated his draft selection in a College Park, MD dormitory.” The Drug culture was pervasive at the Maryland program,” said Watkis, the head of multimedia services at Howard University.

Over 20 years removed the echoes of Tribble’s phone call ring prominent in the Maryland/D.C. area. An area that grew accustom to Bias’ effortless high flying dunks, smooth jump shot, and graceful ball handling skills. On June 19, 1986, at 8:50 a.m., the Maryland basketball superstar was pronounced dead of cardiac arrest due to a cocaine overdose.

Cole Field House, where Bias’ dazzled Terrapin faithful, would be filled to capacity four days later to say goodbye. Rev. Jesse Jackson compared the two-time ACC Player of the Year’s death to the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.

Then Boston Celtics president and former head coach Red Auerbach compared the sentiments in Boston to those amid news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

The Boston Celtics have won an NBA best 16 championships, with the last one coming the season before Bias’ passing. A single moment altered the Celtics mystique, as they have not been included in championship conversations until the current 2007-2008 acquisitions of all stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

“You don’t figure on getting a kid like Bias. He was a terrific player. . . . I would’ve had him and [All Star Larry] Bird as my forwards. . . . They would have been great together,” Red Auerbach told the Washington Post in 2006.

Bias, who attended Northwestern High in Hyattsville, Maryland, and later the University of Maryland, would now become the symbol of cocaine’s danger. If cocaine could kill a gifted athlete seemingly incapable of being conquered, what could happen to an average man?

The great sorrow felt will forever be embedded on the court and the courtroom, where his fatal choice heavily influenced the nation’s drug policy. The Narcotics Penalties and Enforcement Act were implanted as the first portion of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, two months after Bias’ death.

Low level quantities of cocaine now sparked long prison stints. Bias’ fall caused the anti-drug campaign to arise, but debate continues as people point to the justice department focusing on low-level users and not the extensive traffickers.

The Len Bias documentary, scheduled for an April release, features first time interviews with the three witnesses to Bias’ last hours: Terry Long, David Gregg, and Brian Tribble, who was cleared of involvement in Bias death, but later sentenced to 10 years for cocaine distribution.

Boston sports teams and illegal drug use have been two of the most discussed topics in professional sports this year. Now, more than ever is a fitting time for Len Bias’ story to educate.

“It’s not for the money, but to prevent the cycle and the production of another Len Bias,” Fraser told ESPN.

“You got to look at every situation as though it’s going to be the end of your life,” Bias ironically said as the films trailer comes to an end.