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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #59: Len Bias

I’m back here in Maryland for a couple of days, so my thoughts naturally turn to Len Bias. A dominant forward for the Maryland Terrapins in the mid-80s, Bias was drafted by the Celtics with the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft.

Remember: the Celtics had just won the ‘86 title, and now they were adding the most athletic and versatile scorer college basketball had seen since Jordan. Bias was the forerunner of a new kind of NBA star, a shooter who could create his own shot, a big guy who could play small - LeBron James decades ahead of schedule. Bias would have backed up Bird and McHale, giving those aging Hall of Famers the quality rest they needed to extend their dominant careers. With Bias in the mix, there’s zero doubt the stacked Celtics would have repeated as champs in 1987. What’s more, the Bulls and Pistons would have had a much harder time ascending in the East. It’s entirely possible that the Celtics dynasty would have extended well into the 1990s.

Except that never happened. Bias went back to Maryland after the draft, snorted a ton of coke with his buddies, and died. Bird and McHale never got the help they needed and both began to erode physically under the extended minutes they had to play. The Celtics gamely hung around in the finals in 87 and the playoffs the next few years, but the injection of youth and talent they would have gotten from Bias was painfully missing.

Len Bias’ death was a tragedy. For his family and friends. For the Celtics and their fans. And for the NBA, which never saw the talent that might well have been the true rival Jordan never had. We’ll never know. What I do know is that as an 11-year old kid in 1986, I knew I would never go near drugs. The rent is too damn high.

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