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. But Bias' death impacted America much more than it impacted basketball. In 1986, Ronald and Nancy Reagan already had taken on the drug epidemic as a cause. The Democrats didn't want to give up that moral ground, and Bias' death prompted Tip O'Neill to get involved. The powerful O'Neill, a Massachusetts Democrat, then was speaker of the house and heard from many of his constituents. Suddenly, getting tough on drugs was a bipartisan issue, and Washington enacted a variety of harsh measures. The 1986 crime bill imposed mandatory minimum sentencing and federal sentencing guidelines, which eliminated federal parole. It came down hard on crack cocaine possession and distribution. The bill also instituted asset forfeiture, which authorities still use. Sadly, Bias' death was in vain. Twenty years later, the war on drugs is not won.
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