Famous People Who Died Too Soon: Len Bias

March 9, 2012 by staff 

Famous People Who Died Too Soon: Len Bias, Leonard Kevin “Len” Bias (November 18, 1963 – June 19, 1986) was a first team All-American college basketball forward at the University of Maryland. He was selected by the Boston Celtics as the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA Draft on June 17, but died two days later from cardiac arrhythmia induced by a cocaine overdose. He is considered by some sportswriters to be one of the greatest players not to play at the professional level.

On June 18, Bias and his father flew to Boston, Massachusetts, from Washington, D.C., for an NBA club draft acceptance and product endorsement signing ceremony with the Celtics’ coaches and management, as well as with Reebok’s Sports-Marketing Division. Bias reportedly signed a $3 million shoe contract with Reebok.

Later that day, his father left Boston to return to Washington in the late afternoon. There he gave a short press conference for the local Washington media at Washington National Airport. The media was at the airport expecting to interview Bias, so his father stood in, reporting on their “day with the Celtics” and their appreciation of the beginning of a new chapter in his and his son’s lives.

Bias, who returned home later that night, retrieved his newly-leased sports car and drove back to his room on the campus of the University of Maryland.

However, prior to, and concurrent with, some of the given timelines of his activities at the campus, Bias’s vehicle was observed and recorded by undercover agents of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan police department “cruising” one of the city’s most notorious drug neighborhoods along Montana Avenue, in the northeast section of the city. Although the surveillance did not determine who specifically was in the vehicle, or if the vehicle had stopped for any purpose, they did estimate there were at least two people, driver and passenger, in the vehicle, and they recorded its license number onto campus at around 11 p.m. and ate crab with some teammates and a member of the football team. He left campus at approximately 2 a.m. on the 19th and drove to an off-campus gathering, which he attended briefly before returning to his dorm in Washington Hall at 3 a.m. Bias took a dose of cocaine which likely induced cardiac arrhythmia.

At 6:32 a.m., when the 911 call to Prince George’s County emergency services was made by Brian Tribble (a long-time friend), Bias was unconscious and not breathing. All attempts by the emergency medical team to restart his heart and breathing were unsuccessful. According to the campus timeline, Bias collapsed sometime between 6:25 and 6:32 a.m. while talking with teammate Terry Long. According to Bias’s sister, who only had a secondhand account of the story, Bias was sitting on a couch and leaned back as though he were going to sleep, but instead began seizing.

Bias was unconscious and was not breathing when county ambulance attendants arrived at his dormitory suite at 6:36 a.m.-four minutes after they were called and six minutes before a mobile intensive care unit arrived-and he never regained consciousness nor breathed on his own. At the hospital, Bias was given five drugs in an attempt to revive him: epinephrine, sodium bicarbonate, lidocaine, calcium and bretyline. After the chemicals failed, a pacemaker was implanted into his heart muscle in a failed attempt to try to get it beating.

Bias was pronounced dead at 8:55 a.m. in the Emergency Department at Leland Memorial Hospital in Riverdale, Maryland, of a cardiac arrhythmia related to usage of cocaine.

Four days after his death, more than 11,000 people packed the Cole Field House, the university recreation and student center where Bias played for the Terrapins, for a memorial service. Those speaking at the service included Auerbach, who said he had planned for three years to draft Bias for the Celtics. Auerbach added that the city of Boston had not been so shocked since the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Bias is buried in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland.

On June 30, 1986, the Celtics honored Bias with their own memorial service, giving his never used #30 Celtic jersey to his mother, Lonise.

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