While doing research on Michael Jordan’s “The Last Dance,” I came across a photo that sidetracked my progress.
It was a photo of North Carolina Tar Heels Jordan guarding Maryland Terrapins Len Bias – a matchup many thought would extend into the NBA for at least a decade.
That never happened. Boston selected Bias with the No. 2 pick in the 1986 draft and not even two full days later, Bias was dead from cocaine intoxication, collapsing in a Maryland dorm room while partying with friends. He was 22 years old.
“It’s the cruelest thing I’ve ever heard,” then-Celtics star Larry Bird told “Sports Illustrated.”
For me, it was a “remember where you were” moment. I learned it from AM radio – today it would have trended on Twitter – in the parking lot of my high school just as our summer league basketball team took off for a game at Detroit’s famous St. Cecilia’s Gym. Bias’ brother, Jay, was also 16 and playing summer league ball in hoops-rich Prince Georges County, Maryland, that month.
Bias’ story represents one of the saddest “what ifs” in sports history. What if Bias had not died and instead had a long NBA career? Not saying he would have been better than Michael Jordan. But let Jay Bilas, who played against Bias, have a word.