How a star's death changed a nation

Oklahoman Published: June 15, 2006
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Twenty years ago next Monday, Len Bias died. Few athletes have impacted America so much.

The War on Drugs. Stiffer sentencing laws for drug offenders. Just Say No. Asset forfeiture. All came about in the 1986 frenzy over drugs, which in part was fueled by Bias, the Maryland basketball star who died of a cocaine overdose two days after being drafted by the Boston Celtics.

Many a celebrity has died of drug overdose. Lenny Bruce, John Belushi, Janis Joplin. Hundreds more. But none came at the crucial point in history that galvanized Americas and their elected leaders. The death of Bias, a strapping, 6-foot-8, wonderfully gifted and wonderfully skilled ballplayer, did.

These days, we mostly write about Bias' effect on the Celtics and the University of Maryland. Boston drafted Bias second overall -- Brad Daughtery went No. 1, to Cleveland -- and envisioned extending the Larry Bird dynasty.

Bias was a two-time ACC player of the year at Maryland and conceivably could have kept the Celtics an NBA power into the 1990s. Instead, Boston hasn't won a league title since 1986 and has mostly sputtered since Bird's retirement in the early '90s.

Bias' death also led to the resignation of legendary Maryland coach Lefty Driesell.


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