The death of Maryland all-America Len Bias plunged the National Basketball Association into depression yesterday just two days after one of the most exciting drafts in the league's history.
"The passing of Len Bias is one of the biggest shocks I've ever experienced," Boston Celtics President Red Auerbach said in a statement issued by the team yesterday.
Boston had selected Bias with the second pick in Tuesday's draft and Bias had spent Tuesday night and part of Wednesday in Boston meeting with team officials.
"I had a personal relationship with him which was quite unique. . . . We'll always consider him a member of the Celtics family," Auerbach said.
Boston forward Larry Bird called Bias' death "the cruelest thing I've ever heard," according to the Associated Press. "I am too shocked to respond, I was really looking forward to coming to rookie camp just to play with him."
"There were no reports of his being ill," said Boston Coach K.C. Jones at a news conference. "Our impression was that he was sturdy and strong. Most importantly he was a good person. It's a very tragic situation to lose such a great talent, but more importantly to lose a great young man."
NBA Commissioner David Stern called Bias "a poised, good-natured and friendly young man with a wonderful future." Other league officials, many of whom had spent time with Bias in New York before Tuesday's draft, were equally stunned.
"It's just a shocking thing," said Brian McIntyre, the league's public relations director. "I was standing next to him on Tuesday. He was affable and charming."
In the weeks before the draft, Bias visited a number of NBA teams that were in a position to possibly draft him. He was in Boston for the first game of the NBA championship series between the Celtics and Houston Rockets. There also was a trip to New York to visit the Knicks. Late last week, he traveled to Oakland to meet with officials from the Golden State Warriors. In each case Bias was given a full physical examination, and in each case he easily passed.
"He passed ours with flying colors," said Al Attles, the Warriors' vice president. "We didn't give him a stress test, but he said he had had those done in New York and Boston and everything came out perfectly. I heard K.C. say the same thing. You always heard people say that he was the best athlete in the draft, so you didn't think about him not being healthy. You see a physical specimen like him and you don't think anything can be wrong.
"I had only met with him a couple of times but he gave the impression that he was very close with his family. . . . It seemed like I knew him for a long, long time. That's how I feel right now, like I've lost a friend that I've known for a long, long time."
Golden State Coach George Karl said he heard the news of Bias' death shortly after arriving in Cleveland after a night flight from the Bay area. "A guy told me after I got off the plane. I thought he was a practical joker," said Karl.
As part of his interviewing process, Karl, 34, a former NBA player, challenges college prospects to a game of one-on-one basketball. "He beat me, 11-6, and we talked afterwards. I really liked the kid," said Karl. "He had the best balance between dignity, ego and confidence that I'd seen in a college kid. He didn't come off cocky or egotistical, just confident in what he could do.
"When he was in high school he had a reputation of being rebellious, but he said it was because he never had anyone to show him right and wrong. He told me, 'I've learned what a good person is. I have the desire to be a good person.' "
McIntyre said the NBA would not conduct an investigation into Bias' death, nor would it address the issue of compensation to the Celtics.
The Celtics said they were not considering the matter, according to public relations director Jeff Twiss.
"People have called and asked about what the league is going to do, but wait a minute," said Twiss. "We chose Lenny and he could have been the league scoring champ for the next 10 years. But . . . something else could have happened. Unfortunately, that's what has occurred.
"I'm sure that Red, Jan Volk, the team's general manager , K.C. and assistant coaches Jimmy Rodgers and Chris Ford will sit down and try to iron things out. Right now, we're just getting along the best we can."