If you’re new to the sports world, you weren’t around to hear about Len Bias’ tragic death on June 19, 1986, and you may not be familiar with the athlete who many say is the greatest player who never played at the professional level. Nearly thirty years later, fans are still haunted by the event.
We’ll never know if the young athlete’s star potential was great enough to match or exceed the dynamic talent of Michael Jordan, but many believe this to be true. What we do know, however, is that the death, which dominated headlines for weeks, caught the attention of millions of Americans and triggered changes in drug laws that reverberate to this day.
Great Len Bias
By the time Bias graduated from University of Maryland, he had racked up a list of accolades a mile long – leading scorer for the Atlantic Coast Conference his junior year, and Player of the Year for two consecutive years. Many believe Bias was the greatest player ever to play in the conference. By the end of the following year, the wins list continued to grow and Bias had been named to two All-America teams.
The NBA Draft: Death within Two Days
The 1986 NBA draft was held in New York’s Madison Square Garden on June 17. Bias’ selection by the Boston Celtics was followed by a whirlwind of triumph and activity, including a discussion with Reebok regarding a five-year endorsement deal reportedly worth more than $1.5 million.
When Bias returned to the University of Maryland campus on June 18, he enjoyed dinner with some teammates, and then headed off campus to a get-together with friends. Bias was back in his dorm room by 3 a.m., and it was shortly after that Bias and a few friends celebrated with cocaine. A friend called 911 after Bias collapsed following a seizure, and by 9 a.m., he was pronounced dead.
The cause? Cardiac arrhythmia related to use of cocaine. No other substances were found in his system. The sports world was stunned by the news.
Bias’ unused Celtics jersey was given to his mother at a memorial service subsequently held by the Celtics. Bias was also memorialized by the University of Maryland, with 11,000 in attendance. He was inducted into the University’s Hall of Fame for his superior athletic achievements in 2014.
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Even Occasional Use of Cocaine Presents Deadly Health Risks
Bias may – or may not have experimented with cocaine before the evening that led to his death. Some think he may have used cocaine a few times in the previous few months; while others think it was a one-time thing — a moment of celebratory euphoria. Close friends and family remember him as a born-again Christian with a relatively trouble-free lifestyle. It seems that nobody will ever know for sure.
One thing is certain: what happened to Len Bias isn’t as unusual as you might think. Some people enjoy using cocaine on an occasional basis, maybe just a few times every year, or once or twice a month. However, studies by the American Heart Association indicate that occasional cocaine users have higher blood pressure and a pronounced thickening of the left ventricle heart muscle walls.
These physical changes are sometimes to blame when otherwise healthy young people like Len Bias, often under the age of 40, have deadly seizures, massive heart attacks and strokes after using cocaine. Like Bias, events usually occur within three hours of using cocaine. Bias had no previously undetected health issues or heart defects. His autopsy revealed no indication that he was a long-time or habitual user. He was only 22.
Heed the Warnings
There is no “safe” amount of cocaine, and even a first-time user is in danger of stroke or cardiac arrest. If you use cocaine, even on an occasional basis, seek medical attention if you experience any type of chest pain. Listen to your body’s natural warning signs and don’t assume that chest pain is a normal side effect.
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