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Bias's Legacy Lives on With His Mother

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 18, 2006 9:30 PM

Some have forgotten him over the years, and there's a generation of children who have never heard of Len Bias. Some people say his sudden death 20 years ago changed college sports and drug use and the way society viewed both.

But maybe his mother, Lonise Bias, knows best what his legacy really is: "From the ashes," she said, "life came."

It's easier to make sense of it all now, faith and cocaine and love and bullets, the cheering crowds, the testimony, and the insistent beat of a basketball on pavement.

It started with one death, and then another came, just a few years later. Jay Bias, a basketball player like his older brother, was shot and killed.

"In the beginning, it is as if someone puts a knife in the middle of your chest and you can't breathe," Lonise Bias said, "you just can't catch your breath."

Today she'll be talking about drug prevention, as she does so often now as a speaker and consultant, this time with the White House drug czar. "God has given me strength," she said, and the conviction that "Len died to save other young people from drugs."

Every year, the 19th of June will come, and the 20th, Jay Bias' birthday, and the NBA draft. But it's gotten easier for the Bias family, a large close-knit mannerly church-going circle of kin in the Washington area, who still sing in the choir, still take family vacations at the beach, still watch basketball together.

Over the years, some changes have settled in.

Lonise Bias stopped working at a bank, and became, bit by bit, the speaker she is today, while her husband and two children prefer privacy. They all got stronger, friends said, and closer.

After the funerals longtime friend Curlie Williams saw a new tradition begin out of loss: When children came in the door, and before they left, they would say another prayer at the door. "Whenever you enter those streets," Williams said, "you have to bless your children."

As time passed, trials came to an end, and TV cameras left. The Biases took down the medals and trophies the boys had won from the family room wall.

This winter, James and Lonise Bias left the house they had lived in for decades with their four children, where their sons would dribble and shoot out back, the place where neighbors would holler or stop in for advice, the place with all the games watched and flowers tended, and the cookouts.

It was the place Len Bias -- nicknamed Frosty by their good friend and pastor Rev. Gregory Edmond because he was "tall and cool and quiet and unassuming" -- would come home from college, pull out the hose and wash family and neighbors' cars. Then he'd sit down with Williams' elderly mother on her front porch, and they would share an orange soda together.

And it was the place people would drive by, pointing. That's where it happened. Two sons . . .

It wasn't hard for Lonise Bias to leave. "It was the past," she said. "It was the season."

Most of the old photos are packed away in tubs now. "I will see them again," Lonise Bias said of her elder sons; she has faith. "I never have to say goodbye."

And there's another thing: four grandchildren, four laughing, teasing, Uno-playing, splashing-in-the-pool grandchildren nearby.

The oldest one loves to play basketball, loves to win. Keeps getting better. Keeps growing taller. Friends see it, too. "Oh my goodness, when you look at him, it takes your breath away," Lonise Bias said, her face lit with a smile, her eyes shining with tears, her hands crossed over her heart. "How he reminds you of the boys."

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