Does a single bad act obliterate the good that a person has done over a period of time?
That’s the question at the heart of the announcement that former University of Maryland men’s basketball player Len Bias will be inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame. He enters the Hall in October, along with seven others.
If the criterion for admission were limited to performance, Bias would have been inducted years ago. By nearly any objective measure, Len Bias was the greatest men’s basketball player in Maryland’s rich history. He set 15 school records in his four years at College Park, including most points scored in a career and over a single season. Bias was twice named the conference’s best player and was the National Player of the Year in some circles in his senior year.
But numbers could never do Lenny Bias’ game justice. You had to see his majestic, 6-foot-8 inch, 220 pound chiseled frame to admire how special a player he was. Yes, he could jump right out of Cole Field House and frequently, it looked like he would.
At the beginning, all Bias really had was his leaping ability. Point guard Keith Gatlin would launch a pass at a seemingly impossible spot over the backboard, and son of a gun if Lenny didn’t grab every one and throw them down through the basket. In basketball parlance, they were called alley-oops, but they were things of beauty.
The majesty of Lenny Bias was the effort he put in to round out his game. Bias worked and worked to become a deadly accurate shooter and it wasn’t by accident that the Boston Celtics made him the second overall selection in the 1986 draft.
And that’s where the story takes the turn that has haunted Maryland athletics for decades. Bias was drafted on June 17, 1986. A day and a half later, he was dead, the victim of a cocaine overdose.
You may believe, as his former coach, Lefty Driesell does, that Bias’ intake on that fateful night was an outlier. Or you may think his drug usage was ongoing. Whichever option you choose, this much is clear: The aftermath of Len Bias’ death brought Maryland, the athletic program and the school to its knees. In the process, a once-proud university’s reputation was soiled--and for a long time.
Which brings us these present-day questions, namely, what is the statute of limitations on a bad act? And, does that bad act render everything else that came before null and void, especially if that act is literally the last one?
Admittedly, I cannot be objective on this topic. I was a student at Maryland at the same time as Lenny Bias. I didn’t know him personally, but I admired his prodigious talent, and even now, 28 years after the fact, I mourn his loss and what could have been.
I also ache for the sizable hit that my alma mater took in the court of public opinion for a long time. In the end, by fall, we all should have mourned enough.