The parents of University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias, who died June 19 of cocaine intoxication, said yesterday the pressures of college athletics may determine whether some athletes become drug users.
At an impromptu news conference at the family home in Landover -- their first since their son's death -- James and Lonise Bias would not comment directly on an ongoing Prince George's County grand jury investigation of the circumstances surrounding Bias' collapse in his College Park dormitory suite. But James Bias said the tragedy would have a "far-reaching" effect on big-time college athletics.
"There's a very big message in my son's death," he said. "It's having a far-reaching effect all over the country. On athletics in general, the educational process, what universities are doing academically, even the drug question . . . . The conditions for athletes could affect whether or not they take drugs. The rules, the regulations, the pressures."
Family attorney Wayne Curry, also present at the news conference, said Len Bias had obtained two insurance policies for disability worth $1 million each. Neither policy provided life insurance and it is unclear whether the family will be able to collect.
Bias died less than 48 hours after being selected as the Boston Celtics' top college pick in the National Basketball Association draft.
Curry also said the Biases probably would appear before the grand jury that has been hearing testimony all week, but he was not sure when. Called yesterday to appear were seven members of the basketball team, and persons who were with Bias on the night he died.
The Biases, seated before an impressive array of memorabilia from their 22-year-old son's all-American career, said they had gradually been able to get back to a "normal flow," but that revelations during the investigation had shocked them.
"To my knowledge, Len never took drugs," James Bias said. "I have no idea or concern about his friends. For someone to say that was the cause of his death, of course it was a shock."
Asked if he accepted findings by the chief Maryland medical examiner that Len Bias died from using cocaine, he said, "I'd rather not comment."
James Bias also said he was not informed of his son's academic progress or problems at the university. After Bias died there were disclosures that he was 21 credits short of graduating.
"My wife and I are here in Landover raising three children and Len Bias was at Maryland under the tutelage of those in charge," he said. "The Biases do not put the grades in the computer, the administrators do that. I think that answers for itself. We only know what we were told, that's the bottom line."
The Biases said that despite the allegations that have surfaced during the grand jury investigation -- including unsubstantiated reports that a Maryland player had bet on a basketball game last year and that several players used drugs -- they wanted to know what happened in the Washington Hall dorm suite where Len Bias collapsed about 6:30 the morning of his death. Earlier in the week, Curry said on behalf of the family that the grand jury might be "tainted" by innuendo and allegations surrounding the case.
"That's the key thing," James Bias said. "To know what happened in that room, to know what happened to my son. The public also has a real interest in what happened. I very possibly will rest easier when I know. I haven't so far."
Lonise Bias, a born-again Christian who missed a visit from her son the evening before he died because she was at a Bible class, said she had a premonition about six months ago about a death in the family. Since her son's death, she said, she has concentrated on helping her other children, Michelle, Jay and Eric.
"I've tried to be supportive of my husband and children," she said. "We're still a family with things to look forward to. We must go on . . . . It helps knowing we did our best to raise this child for 22 years. It was time for Len to go, I know that. The circumstances, I had no control over. I turn away from the adversity, the circumstances."