One of the true “What If’s” in NBA history comes from the tragic saga of one Len Bias whose dream of playing in the NBA was short-lived after he passed away from a cardiac arrhythmia which resulted from a cocaine overdose.
Bias was believed to be the best player in the 1986 NBA Draft where he was drafted by the Boston Celtics who previously won the NBA championship. At the time, it was believed that Bias was going to be one of the greats in NBA history. Bias had everything from a jump-shot to athletic ability beyond belief and a killer instinct.
It was believed that even Bias was going to be a better player than one Michael Jordan who he faced off with in the ACC. Then the tragedy struck and the Celtics were never the same after that. It took the Celtics a total of 24 years to win another title after the Bias tragedy.
However, “What If Bias played in the NBA?” I think there are two distinct timelines that could have happened for Bias based on the information that we have. I’m sorry to go all “Butterfly Effect” on everybody.
(Note: These timelines are just based on loose facts and assumptions. We will never know the true truth of the night that Bias passed away or his alleged use of cocaine. This is more of a study of what could have happened if Bias played in the NBA and the possiblity if he used cocaine in the NBA)
Timeline 1-Bias Dominates the NBA
After being drafted by the Celtics, Bias goes onto help the Celtics corral the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1987 NBA Finals winning in seven games. Bias career takes off as he seen as the air apparent to Larry Bird. Bias alongside Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish help win titles for the Celtics in 1989 and 1990.
Bias is seen as Boston’s favorite son in the early 90’s and his rivalry with Michael Jordan become the greatest rivalry in NBA history. Bias Celtics win titles in 1991 and 1992. Jordan has the last laugh in 1993 as he beats Bias and Celtics with a last second shot in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals.
It appears that Bias has the upper-hand on the NBA when Jordan retires but the tragic passing of Reggie Lewis deeply hurts Bias. The Celtic teams in 1994/1995 come up painfully short in the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Knicks. Most Boston fans consider how great the team could have been if Lewis was still alive.
Bias eventually retires at the end of the 1996 NBA season and is named as one of the NBA’s Top 50 players at the All-Star break in Cleveland. Bias final game happens against the Toronto Raptors as he pours in 21 points as the Celtics eek out a win in Bias final game.
Bias is considered in the conversation as one of the best players in NBA history and his endorsement with Reebok helps give the brand notoriety with his success.
Timeline 2-Cocaine catches up with Bias
Bias helps the Celtics win the NBA title in 1986 as they defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games. However, many players on the Celtics team believe that Bias is a drug user due to his erratic play.
Celtics forward Larry Bird tries to take Bias under his wing but he can only do so much. Bias play become more erratic as suspicions mount that he is a drug user due to the other revelations around the league with Chris Washburn, Roy Tarpley and William Bedford.
The Celtics fans begin to curse the pick that Auerbach made and see Bias as a wash-up has-been. The Celtics fail to return to the NBA Finals during Bias tenure with the team. With the passing of Reggie Lewis, Bias changes his life and plays clean for the rest of his career.
Bias goes to have an average NBA career for the Celtics, Nets, Heat and Cavaliers. Bias eventually retires in 1998. He becomes the poster-child for NBA draft busts that never lived up to the potential.
Bias eventually admits later in a book, that he did use cocaine while in the NBA. Bias along with his mother speak out against the dangers of drugs and peer pressure. Bias is seen by the league as a great reform story and is commended for turning his life around.
In a television interview with ESPN, a question is brought up regarding the “If he had lived up to his potential as an NBA player.” Bias replies, “We never will know, Will We?”
The sad part of the story is that we will never know how good Len Bias could have been and in the end, the Bias tragedy is a testiment to the fact that life doles out no second chances and one mistake can change a life forever.
RIP Len Bias: 1963-1986