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Friends, Foes and Tragedies: the Story of Len Bias

A Basketball Camp for the Ages

It was the summer of 1980, and it was time for the annual Five Star basketball camp to begin. During this time period, Michael Jordan was relatively unknown (he was only being recruited by two schools). However, the camp presented Jordan with an opportunity to make a bigger name for himself. The Five Star basketball camp (in that year alone) hosted larger names such as Dominique Wilkins, Patrick Ewing, and Chris Mullin.

Another player who was relatively unknown at the time went by the name of Len Bias. Bias could only be described as a raw and freakishly athletic young man (he stood at 6-foot-6). Bias and Jordan were introduced to each other by a camp counselor named Larry Spriggs.

Spriggs introduced Jordan to Bias using his nickname “Black Ice.”Jordan and Bias spent the next few weeks (at camp) growing their games off one another. This eventually lead to the pair developing a friendship.

At the end of the camp, the two stayed in touch. A couple of years later, Bias and Jordan met up at a University of Maryland football game, yet chose to leave early in order to play some two on two basketball.

It is rumored that Jordan lost this pickup game.

Jordan is quoted saying, “Five-Star changed how I felt about basketball and my future. It was the turning point of my life.”

The Rabbit and the Hare of College Basketball

Friends, Foes, and Tragedies – the Story of the man who Could Have Challenged Michael Jordan
Len Bias (on the left) fights off Michael Jordan (on the right) in an attempt to score. Photo courtesy of the bastardswordsman.tumblr.com

When Jordan’s collegiate basketball career started in 1981, he produced immediately (averaging 13.5 ppg, and 1.8 assists at the University of North Carolina).

The same could not be said for Bias, upon the start of his collegiate career in 1982.

Bias initially came off of the bench for the Maryland Terrapins (averaging 7.1 ppg and 0.7 assists).

By the time the two first faced off at the collegiate level (in 1982), Jordan had already became regarded as one of the best players in all of college basketball. During the game, Jordan outmatched Bias and North Carolina won at home 72-71. Later on that year, Maryland would go on to beat North Carolina at home 106-94.

Given that Jordan entered collegiate play one year before Bias, it makes sense that he would be more developed than Bias at this point in his career.

In Bias’s sophomore year he’d go on to average (15.3 ppg, on 56.7% shooting, while earning a starting job on the team). Jordan would average (19.6 ppg, on 55.1% shooting, during that same season). Jordan did have the better surrounding team (in comparison to what Maryland had to offer Bias).

For this reason despite Bias outscoring Jordan in their first of the two matchups that year, the University of North Carolina still won the game 74-62.

Despite the victory, Jordan was annoyed that he allowed his fellow friend to outduel him. For this reason, Jordan led the 14-0 (number 1 ranked) Tar Heels over the (number 5 ranked) Maryland Terrapins in his final match against his friend. Jordan scored 25 points (on 71% shooting in the game), while Bias scored 16.

Jordan’s NBA Career Begins and Bias’s College Career Continues

Friends, Foes, and Tragedies – the Story of the man who Could Have Challenged Michael Jordan
Len Bias on the cover of Sports Illustrated. following his untimely death. Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

In 1984, Jordan would go on to get drafted to the Chicago Bulls (3rd  overall).

During the next two years, Bias would continue playing at the University of Maryland.

During this period, the legend of Jordan would continue to grow at the professional level, yet Bias’s productivity at the college level continued to increase.

Bias averaged 18.9 points per game his junior year, and the following year he averaged 23.2 points per game.

Bias would get drafted 2nd overall by the Boston Celtics on June 17, 1986.

Tragically, Bias died two days later from cocaine use.

Interestingly enough, it is rumored that Bias had never previously done any drugs. According to reports, the drug was ingested in a lethal dosage. Many say there is a strong possibility that Bias was unaware that the drug was in his drink. Bias’s death brought to light the risks of doing hard drugs such as cocaine.

NBA hall of farmer Charles Barkley even stated that this incident scared him away from wanting to ever try the drug.

While the incident may have saved the lives of many young athletes, one has to wonder if the presence of Len Bias would have pushed the 1986 NBA champion Boston Celtics to the next level. Maybe his presence would have created a Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson rivalry, that lasted for generations to come.

 

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