The time to stop punishing Len Bias passed long ago.
It’s true, his death cast a cloud over the University of Maryland. And how he died won’t be celebrated. But short of an apology from the grave, what do we need to justify celebrating his basketball career?
Even with powerful backing from Gary Williams — the very man who trudged through the aftershock of the Bias tragedy — John Feinstein’s objection to Maryland inducting Bias into its Hall of Fame feels sanctimonious and simplistic. On-court brilliance aside, there’s one difference between Len Bias and you, me or anyone else who can remember doing something dangerous or illegal as a young adult: He died for his mistake.
Whether Bias was using cocaine for the first time or not, at this point, is nothing more than a curiosity. It matters none. He was not an axe murderer, or even a petty thief. His wasn’t a crime against humanity or an affront to his sport’s integrity, like Pete Rose’s gambling. He was a star athlete who made an ill-fated decision to use when so many others were too.
What percentage of politicians, players and other celebrities we honor daily have done the same or worse?
How many star athletes, even hall of famers, have been arrested, done drugs, cheated, used steroids, driven drunk, and so on? Had Bias only been arrested and gone on to make things right like in so many other redemption stories, we wouldn’t be having this conversation nearly 30 years later.
Let’s ditch the silly pretenses. Honoring Bias’s greatness on the basketball court and his sentimental importance to fans isn’t condoning drugs to the youth. Neither athletes nor the small segment of young kids who know his story are going to view it as justification to do cocaine. After all, it did kill him, right?
The Rose analogy is equally flawed, and Feinstein admits as much but leans on it anyway. Rose repeatedly and intentionally violated one of the most fundamental laws of competition, may have fixed games, lied about it endlessly and proved to be an all-around weasel. There’s no parallel.
I don’t write this as a jilted Len Bias fan, for the record. I was 8 years old when he died. I remember the commotion, but I didn’t know who Bias was — or what cocaine was. For those older than me, though, he was the pride of Maryland until the day he died and remains a Terps legend.
No one forced him to make a terrible decision. He’s not a martyr. And it isn’t okay to break laws or do drugs. But such is life. Usually, you live and you learn, except Bias wasn’t as fortunate as most of us. It cost him everything, including a chunk of his basketball legacy.
Had Feinstein written this column 20 years ago, it would’ve had more merit. But by now, the remaining Bias baggage is mostly sadness and curiosity — not resentment or controversy. Williams willed his way through it all and won a national title, lifting the dark shadow cast by Bias’s death.
Boiling it all down, it’s a simple question: what’s the statute of limitations on a 22-year-old college kid doing drugs? By my count, it’s been 28 years.
InsideMDSports publisher Jeff Ermann began covering Maryland basketball, football and recruiting in 2001. He has previously been a contributor to The Post’s sports section.