What Could've Been: Len Bias

Earlier this morning, I spoke on the possibilities of Reggie Lewis had he not died of a sudden cardiac attack. Now, I want to focus on a similar story that took place just one year before Lewis was drafted. I'm, of course, referring to the tragic case of Leonard Kevin "Len" Bias.


When people hear the name Len Bias, he's become a cautionary tale of what not to do as an NBA up-and-comer. He's become a scapegoat for both the failures of the University of Maryland's program in the mid-to-late 1980s and the failures of the war against drugs. I mean, hell, Len Bias pretty much has an anti-drug act in his honor, which strengthened the range of the DARE program. Now, I could go on for hours on the failures of The War on Drugs. But, that's not why you're here.

Len Bias' legacy extends far beyond just his misfortune with drugs. A raw talent, Bias was able to put Maryland on his shoulders in the early-to-mid 1980s. The team wouldn't have been as successful as they were without Bias, plain and simple. And while there are more statistically-inclined arguments to suggest that Bias would've been a "poor man's James Worthy...or Carmelo Anthony," I can't help but disagree--bias aside (and pun slightly intended).

For starters, Len Bias had Lefty Driesell as his head coach. Say what you will about Lefty's last years in College Park and beyond, he did succeed, in some degree, in turning his team into the UCLA of the East (at least until those other blue teams came out the woodwork). And this lofty goal, it allowed for Bias and Driesell to work together.

Secondly, the game between Len Bias' Terps and Michael Jordan's Tar Heels.


We look at it as the "oh, he would've been better than Mike" barometer. However, it's deeper than that. These men played not as one being better than another, but on another level altogether when paired in that one game. It was like watching Ali and Frazier go at it. The only thing that hindered the match-up was this: Bias scored about a third of Maryland's points--which leads me to my third point.

Bias was usually the leading scorer on the team. That's a positive and a negative. It's a positive because we knew that he could score and could do what he needed to do. However, Bias would, somewhat like Greivis Vasquez years later, would have to find a team where he could continue to be a leading player--or adjust his game accordingly--to succeed in the NBA.

I feel, in some ways, that Bias would've been unable to adjust to being the second, third, or forth man in the NBA. However, if the below video is to be taken at face value, he wouldn't have had to.


Straight from the mouth of Larry Legend himself, Bias would've been "The Guy." Now, think about that for a second. Had Bias not died, he automatically would've been anointed "The Guy" by Larry Bird. Let's not even include Reggie Lewis in the debate just yet, because we don't know whether or not he would've been drafted had Bias lived. I mean, they're both small forwards. But...had Bias lived, he'd benefited from being mentored by Bird just as Lewis had a few years afterwards. This mentorship wouldn't guarantee that Len Bias would become GOAT, but it sure wouldn't hurt.

With regards to the 1987 NBA draft, it gets a bit murkier as to what'd happen. Personally, I feel that both Bias and Lewis had the capability to play shooting guard if needed. So, imagine, if you will, a combo of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis. In the mid-to-late 1980s. Before Jordan became MICHAEL JORDAN OF THE THREE-TIME NBA CHAMPION CHICAGO BULLS (the first time). It's possible that the Bias-led Celtics would've been able to hang just as well, if not better, with the Bulls, Pistons, and Lakers of these years. 

Why? As mentioned, Bias and Lewis were Bird-esque and Bird would've had a big part in making them both who they were. Ultimately, Len Bias, had he lived, would've been quite successful. But only if all the right pieces came together.

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