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Lorenzo Charles’ Death Triggers Len Bias Memories

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Yesterday’s news about the tragic death of former North Carolina State basketball player Lorenzo Charles was a real reminder about just how fragile life can be.

The hero of the 1983 NC State Wolfpack’s National Championship win was suddenly gone.  This brought back some really painful memories.

I thought back to the time when I found out Len Bias was dead.

If you have never seen Bias play.  You missed something special.  Quite simply, he was a man-child.  He looked like a Greek God during a time where few players were as ripped as him.

Bias was a two-time All-American and a two-time ACC Player of the Year (1985, 86).  He was quick and could drive on anyone but had a great outside shot as well.  He was dynamic and his leaping ability was outrageous.

NBA scouts were comparing him to Michael Jordan.  He was an explosive and as exciting as Jordan.  In fact, I honestly thought Bias was the better college player.  Bias was able to roam more freely in Maryland’s system while Dean Smith’s UNC system tended to focus more on the team rather than an individual players’ skill.

Bias was drafted by the Boston Celtics with the 2nd pick in the 1986 NBA Draft.  He was going to join the Boston Celtics front line of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish.  Bias was the athletic player they were looking for to replace the aging stars.

Of course, none of that ever happened.

June 19, 1986.  That was the day Bias died of a cocaine overdose.  It was just 2 days after he was drafted by the Celtics.  It was also the first time I had really to really deal with death.

I remember a childhood friend of mine called me around 8:30am to tell me the news.  I think I literally cussed him out and told him to stop playing jokes on me.  He said he was serious – they think it was of a cocaine overdose.

I dropped the phone and cried.

At the time, I was 15-year old fan of Maryland Basketball and I idolized Bias as a kid.  I watched the Washington DC newscasts all day long hoping that the news would change and that we’d find out Bias was really okay.  Wishful thinking I guess but I also think it was my way of dealing with this.  Denial.  Isn’t that what most people do?

Bias’ death was a real eye-opener for me.  I promised myself I would never touch cocaine.  I don’t want to sound like Nancy Reagan here, but I really used his death as a example of the negative effects of drug use.

Twenty-five years later, I often still think about what could have been.  Would Bias have been as good as Jordan?  I don’t know but I sure would have loved to have found out.

Three years after Bias’ death, I went to the University of Maryland as a student.  In my junior and senior years, I actually lived directly above the dorm that Bias died in. It was a bit eerie but I routinely thought back to that day in 1986 – the day Len Bias died.

Check out the Len Bias highlights below as well as a Maryland/UNC game featuring Bias vs. Jordan.

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