If Walter Berry is The Truth, what is Len Bias? The Answer? Or, after what the Maryland senior did to North Carolina Thursday night, is that a biased question?
Basketball stars have many styles, but one of the best things that can be said of a great player is, "He answers." When his team's in trouble, he gets the tough basket. When a great foe deals out his best shot, he responds immediately. And, above all, when the game is on the line, he does things that stats don't show. He finds the answer to winning.
Maybe it's getting carried away by the latest Upset of the Year. Maybe it's enthusiasm for another Washington product who may join the Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing, Adrian Dantley tradition in the NBA. But wasn't every third person on Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday asking a neighbor, "When did you see a better performance against a No. 1 team?"
Certainly, Lefty Driesell never had. Coaches love to say, "I won't know until I see the films." Driesell knew long before. "If Lenny Bias isn't the player of the world I don't know who is. I just thought he was unbelievable. He had 35 points but I thought he had 95. He made every kind of shot there is," said the coach moments after Maryland's 77-72 overtime victory over the top-ranked Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.
Yesterday, on a gloomy, foggy day, Driesell had the sweetest job in town. Sitting back in his big black leather swivel chair and watching a 50-minute pure-action videotape of the win. "Bias made spin shots, lobs, jump hooks, banks, jumpers -- every imaginable shot. I've never seen anything like it."
The entire Terrapins team played a game to make Land Turtle fans proud, but Bias contributed one of those Games They'll Talk About for Years.
He had the answer for everything.
When Carolina led by 11 with two minutes left in the half, Bias knew his guys were on the ropes. He fired, but missed. No time to get scared. A wink to Keith Gatlin sent a lob pass his way. Up the 6-foot-8 forward rose -- one step was all he needed to lift himself 38 inches. As a pair of 7-foot Carolina scholars took notes, Bias grabbed the ball between them and hurled it south.
Seconds later, Bias dribbled right, ball-faked, reversed direction, ball-faked again, then drew a two-shot foul in the air. A minute after that, he was sticking his Basic Bias, spraddle-legged, two-dribbles-and-goodbye corner jumper down the throat to send Maryland to the locker room with a manageable five-point deficit. Crisis averted.
Bias returned to the realm of the merely marvelous until he was desperately needed. Okay, okay, with 12 minutes to play he drove left baseline off a lefty dribble, avoided stepping on the end line by an inch, came up with a one-handed reverse scoop layup from behind and under the backboard and scored without ever touching glass.
Welcome to the world of Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and almost nobody else. The NBA shouldn't draft this guy. It should hire armed guards to protect him until he can start filling arenas.
The Moment We'd All Been Waiting For arrived with three minutes left and Carolina ahead by nine. Game's over, right? Not tonight, Uncle Dean. It was The Dynasty's turn to blow a big one and not look too brilliant doing it.
Bias hit an open 20-foot jumper -- one of several he made on a night when Carolina not only played honest man-to-man but made little effort to deny him the ball. That's like giving a bear a steak and then asking him not to eat it.
While Carolina napped (quick, check the fingerprints; can these be Prof. Smith's students?) -- Bias stole the inbounds pass from all-ACC guard Kenny Smith and dunked. Backwards. In one swift motion. Smith auditorium emitted a sound like your tire going flat.
Six seconds. Four points. New game. What was the question again?
A minute later, Bias blocked what looked like a fait accompli layup by Jeff Lebo -- generally referred to around Chapel Hill as the Jerry West of 1990.
Now fully warmed to the task, Bias took a pass in running stride and, in a blink, transformed it into a jumper from beyond the circle to cut the lead to two points. In overtime, Bias sank the game-winning shot -- reversing direction in the lane and making a 12-foot jump hook with two defenders trying to ascend his north face with grappling hooks.
Finally, the game came down to one shot. With Carolina trailing by one and only 14 seconds to play, Kenny Smith swept down the lane, tossed up a soft six-foot hook -- and watched Bias climb his invisible rope for a terminator of a blocked shot.
Sorry, Tar Heels. That's curfew.
Those who live for nothing else say that Bias' defense may need work in the NBA, that his ballhandling could be better and that his rebounding lacks inspiration. As for passing, he'd probably be willing, but the ball is in his hands for such a millisecond that it merely seems to be paying its respects before finding a home in the basket.
Don't ask Carolina to endorse this appraisal. Bias blocked shots, got important rebounds in traffic, passed up three easy shots to pass for easier Terrapins dunks or layups and -- all-in-all -- made Carolina's star of stars, Brad Daugherty, seem like a very large, very polished, but slightly sluggish fellow.
But Bias makes cats feel slow. His game is all suddenness, self-confidence and simplicity. No frills, just thrills. Odd as it seems, Bias' 23.1-point scoring average (best in the ACC) comes out of a Maryland offense that, when it's working well, seldom forces the ball to him. At the right moments, he just seems to materialize.
Asked if this was his best game, Bias said, "I don't know. I shot 13 for 24. I've shot 14 for 15. What pleased me was I did things when we needed them."
If the NBA needs a preview of coming attractions, this is a Biased evaluation of man-to-man defense: "It's easy to do that when they put one guy on you. Without a doubt, I was so happy to see only one. I've seen many zones and double-teams and box-and-ones where I can't put the ball on the floor."
The only column in which Bias often has a zero is boasts. Besieged by cameras at practice yesterday, Bias was teased by a friend, who asked him how it felt to be a star. "Man, I'm not a star," said Bias. "I wasn't a star when we were losing and I'm not a star now."
For once, the wrong answer.