On the first day of Brian Lee Tribble's drug distribution trial, it was immediately clear that the proceedings involved more than whether Tribble supplied the cocaine that killed Maryland basketball star Len Bias.

Bias, or rather the exalted memory of Bias, was also on trial.

First, prosecutors called Bias "a courtesy middleman" who sold drugs for Tribble and a participant in "the secret world of cocaine dealing."

From there the picture of Len Bias the all-America basketball star, the local guy made good, became a portrait of a shady character who carried half-grams of cocaine concealed in folded dollar bills, introduced a teammate to cocaine, spent at least one night after a Terrapins basketball game snorting cocaine, frequented a well-known street drug market and participated in a suspected drug sale at a local nightclub.

The trial in Prince George's County Circuit Court became less about Tribble, 24, of Northeast Washington and more about the real life of Len Bias.

Much of last week's testimony damaging to Bias' reputation came from some of the people who knew him best, teammates Terry Long and David Gregg, who said they had tried to protect the wholesome Bias image as long as possible but testified in court after charges against them were dismissed.

Wayne C. Curry, the Bias family attorney who has sat through the trial, said on the day prosecutors called Bias "a courtesy middleman" that he doubted that any "similar allegation will come from anyone who does not have his own hindparts to protect," a reference to Gregg and Long's testimony.

"It would be just if perhaps Len could come back and do the cross-examining," Curry said. "But of course, dead men can't argue."

Prosecutors, who are expected to finish their case against Tribble when the trial resumes at 11 a.m. tomorrow, needed to link Bias to Tribble's alleged drug sales to prove one of their charges against Tribble -- conspiracy to distribute and possess cocaine. The prosecutors said that Bias, along with Tribble and Terrence Anthony Moore, a 17-year-old self-described cocaine dealer, conspired to distribute drugs.

Tribble is also charged with distributing cocaine, possessing cocaine with intent to distribute it and possessing cocaine, charges stemming from Bias' death last June 19 of cocaine intoxication.

The conspiracy theory was the key to get into evidence testimony from Moore, who said he sold cocaine for Tribble around the Montana Terrace apartments in Northeast Washington and often saw Bias there.

Probably the testimony most damaging to Bias' reputation -- and, technically to Tribble's defense -- came from Long and Gregg, who along with Tribble were with Bias for the early morning party June 19 to celebrate Bias' selection by the National Basketball Association's Boston Celtics.

Long and Gregg testified that they initially withheld information about cocaine use in the dormitory room because they wanted to protect Bias' image. "I didn't want anybody to know what {Bias} was doing," said Gregg, who, like Bias, attended Northwestern High School in Hyattsville.

But on the witness stand, Gregg said that he had snorted cocaine with Bias four or five times, and he named Bias as the supplier on three of those occasions.

Long testified that it was Bias who introduced him to cocaine. Bias and Long used cocaine seven to 10 times after that, Long said, including once with Tribble and Gregg at Tribble's apartment after a Terrapins basketball game in January 1986.

Long and Gregg also put Tribble in the Washington Hall dormitory suite in the hours before Bias collapsed while passing about a half-cup pile of cocaine on a mirror to Bias, Long and Gregg.

Although prosecutors said Bias was involved in the drug world, they said that it was only to provide cocaine to his friends for recreational use, and there was no testimony suggesting that Bias provided drugs for profit.

But things are not likely to improve for Bias when Tribble's attorneys begin calling witnesses, probably by tomorrow afternoon or early Tuesday.

Morrow, one of Tribble's lawyers, told the jury during his opening statement that the key issue in the case would be where the cocaine the four men snorted in early June 19 came from, hinting that it could have been from Bias.

And, according to testimony from some of the 16 people who testified last week, the only other person who could have brought the cocaine -- between one-third and one-half cup -- into the dormitory suite is Bias.

The list of potential defense witnesses is short. Included are two women -- Bernadette Louise Holton of Southeast Washington and Christine Johnson of Northwest Washington -- who told investigators shortly after Bias' death that they had spent time with Bias in the hours before he died.

Johnnie Walker, a D.C. police officer and friend of the Bias family, likely will be called to testify. Walker searched Bias' leased Nissan 300ZX the day Bias died to retrieve his belongings.

In testimony before the county grand jury that investigated Bias' death, according to a source, Walker said he saw no evidence of cocaine in the car.

The day after Walker's search, a University of Maryland police officer found about nine grams of cocaine behind the dashboard in the car and several flakes of the drug on the floor on the passenger side of the car.

Julie Delanet Walker, a longtime friend of Tribble, may testify about the safe that prosecutors allege Tribble kept at her Bladensburg apartment to store cocaine.

Gale Diamond, Walker's former roommate, testified last week that the safe was stolen about 7:15 a.m. the day Bias died. Diamond testified that she opened the safe once but did not see any drugs.