Nearly every Celtics fan more than 30 years old felt the impact of Len Bias' death 25 years ago Sunday. The 6-foot-8 beast out of the University of Maryland was considered one of the decade's can't-miss prospects, and looking back on news coverage at the time, Bias' name was mentioned with such names as Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.
In other words, he possessed a talent so versatile that he was destined to dominate.
For those of us who were just babies when Bias died, reminders of his loss followed the Celtics into the lost decade of the 1990s. "This franchise never recovered after Bias died," a fan was overheard saying during a game in 1995-1996. The Celtics were on their way to a 15-win season. Bias would have been no spring chicken at 32. Yet there was a sentiment that Bias, having been through the battles with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, would have righted that listing ship.
That one player — plus the possible addition of Northeastern's own Reggie Lewis, who died in his own tragic way — could have changed the face of that difficult season spoke to how high the hopes had been for Bias.
The bright side is that Bias, and a number of cocaine-related incidents during the '80s, helped bring about awareness and reform. Coke was no longer perceived as a "recreational drug" but as a substance that could kill.
A 1989 issue of Sports Illustrated featured a cover photo of Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson being arrested for selling cocaine, and a story inside covered the Phoenix Suns' recovery from a drug scandal that erupted in 1987. That was just what was happening in sports at that time, unfortunately.
Even then, though, the tone was changing. The SI story focused on the Suns' efforts to rebuild its reputation. A greater emphasis on character contributed to Navy's David Robinson being selected No. 1 in 1987, even though the Spurs would have to wait two years until he played. Robinson was an outstanding talent, but his personality and background convinced the team he was worth the wait.
Bias' death may have ended the Celtics' stranglehold on the Eastern Conference, but it helped change the game for the better.