With yesterday being the 26th anniversary of the passing of Len Bias, there was a lot of social media chatter amongst us middle-aged Terps fans. Much of it centered on the memories we all were all robbed of when Bias ingested a lethal amount of cocaine in a campus dorm in the early morning hours of June 19th, 1986. The comparisons to Michael Jordan invoked. The rings, the rivalry, the NBA in general. With that premise, I decided to, ever so scientifically, track Bias’ career as it would have almost certainly played out (according to me and my crystal ball). It starts in Boston in 1986.
1986-87 It’s Bias’ rookie season in Boston. Bias makes his inroads slowly under K.C. Jones who knows his team is already the best in the East before the arrival of Bias. He finishes the regular season averaging only 10.5 points and 4.5 boards in about 22 minutes per game. Chuck Person is still the Rookie of the Year. But much like the 1984 ACC tournament, Bias arrived in the post-season. He averages nearly 15 points and 8 boards. The Celtics, pushed to 7 games without Len against Milwaukee and Detroit, now win both series in five. With Bias playing significant minutes in the Finals, the Celtics still fall in the Finals to the Lakers (though in 7 games instead of 6).
1987-88 An injury to Kevin McHale opens the door for the 2nd year forward. Though Michael Jordan wins the league MVP, Bias is the difference between the Celtics bowing in the Conference Finals to Detroit and instead winning the East. He starts 33 games, averages 30 minutes with 15 points and 7 rebounds. Again he raises his game in the playoffs. K.C. Jones may not be able to hold Bias back next season. James Worthy and Len Bias are third on the marquee in the Finals behind Magic/Bird and Parrish/Kareem. But by the end of the series, Bias’ raised play and Bird’s clutch shots make them the heroes and the Celtics repay the Lakers winning in seven.
1988-89 Another injury creates opportunity for Bias though he clearly is ready to start. This time, it’s Bird who is lost for most of the season and the playoffs. With Parrish and Dennis Johnson aging, Bias gets the minutes he’s craved and the ball. Bias puts up All-Star numbers in the 1st half and makes his first appearance in the game. He starts every game for the Celtics but the burden of the offense wears on him. He finishes averaging just over 24 points per game and 8 rebounds. The Celtics win the division with Bias instead of finishing second. But without Bird, the first Jordan/Bias playoff matchup goes to the Bulls in 6 games in the second round.
1989-90 – With Bird back and pouring in 22 a game, he’s deferring more to Bias as the season wears on. Reggie Lewis is now a key player as well. Bias comes back leaner and quicker after hitting a late-season wall in ’89 determined to make the East a three-team race of Detroit, Chicago and Boston. Bias makes another All-Star game and starts 80 games. The aging Celtics make what could be their last run with Bird running the show. The mix of young and old works perfectly and the Celts down the Bulls and Pistons before sweeping Portland Blazers in the Finals and Bias gets his second ring. But Bird, in somewhat of a sentimental vote, wins the Finals MVP.
1990-91 With Bird now 34, he plays only 60 games but still sees the ball in key moments, almost as an homage to his greatness. Bias posts career highs in almost every category. He’s 4th in the league scoring with 28.1 a game. He averages nearly 10 rebounds and is named to the All-Defensive team. And Bias, always a solid shooter from 18-22 feet, has now solidified his 3-point shot. The Celtics shoot passed Detroit with Bias but falter against Jordan and the Bulls who feel now it’s their time. Bias however edges Jordan in MVP voting after much politicking by Bird.
1991-92 Bias is now the man in Boston. He, with Reggie Lewis, now fuels the team. Parrish continues to contribute. Bird is hurt again. McHale struggles mightily. The Bulls rule the regular season again and Jordan continues to pour in points. With Detroit faltering, the Celtics contend with Cleveland to face the Bulls in the conference finals. Bias puts up his best playoff series to date against the one player selected ahead of him in the NBA draft, Brad Daugherty. He pumps in 36 a game in the 6-game series including 49 in the series clincher. Bias has set Jordan squarely in his sights. But the Bulls are too much again. Bias and the Celtics fall in a classic 7 game series with each perennial All-Star averaging over 33 points. Bias also plays in Barcelona on the greatest basketball team ever assembled and wins a Gold Medal averaging 12 points a game during the Olympic Games. He is now clearly one of the top 5 players in the world.
1992-93 Bias misses camp in a contract dispute. He plays sparingly in the first few weeks. Then he is injured and misses the All-Star game for the first time in four years. Suddenly, the Knicks have risen to the top of the East. But Bias returns for the final 30 games and has the Celtics running on all cylinders as the playoffs start. In round two, Bias gets the best of Jordan for the second time in 5 tries in the playoffs. The Bulls face too many obstacles to complete the three-peat. One being Bias. The Knicks cannot stop Bias either. With Bird gone, the former Terp has the chance to put his stamp on the Celtics. Boston wins 4-1 over both New York and Barkley’s Suns to win Len’s 3rd ring. This time, it comes with a Finals MVP trophy.
1993-94 Bias enters his eighth season with no main rival. Jordan has moved onto baseball. But he has no 2nd fiddle on his team either. Reggie Lewis dies in the off-season. And Parrish is now 40 and Bird retired. Bias needs to score now more than ever. And he does. For the first time he averages over 30 points. But the team struggles and squeaks into the playoffs as the 8th seed. The lose 3-2 to top seeded Atlanta. Bias and the Celtics miss an opportunity in the Jordan-less NBA to win their fourth title in Bias’ career. They must re-tool.
1994-95 They don’t. Greg Minor and Eric Montross are drafted and make minimal impact. An aging Dominique Wilkins is brought in and performs well but Bias and he don’t gel as well as hoped. Bias’ scoring slips to 27 points per game. The team struggles again and finishes 8t h again. The Magic, with Shaquille O’Neal, bounce Boston in round one. The natives are restless. The off-season won’t be pretty.
1995-96 Bias and Red Auerbach have a great relationship and come to an agreement that the window in Boston has closed for Bias to keep the team in contention alone. He is shipped to Washington for Rasheed Wallace and a No. 1 draft pick. He will play in his own backyard and mentor Chris Webber and Juwan Howard. Bias shines. The team, attendance and the general outlook Washington improves. The Bullets hadn’t been in the playoffs in seven seasons but make it now. Bias again averages over 30 points but misses a scoring title by 0.3 points to the un-retired Jordan. The Bullets upset Indiana but fall to the Magic in 7 games.
1996-97 The Bullets win 50 games for the 1st time since their glory days in the late 70s. Bias scores 29.3 per game, again losing the scoring title to Jordan by 0.3. In the playoffs the Bullets oust third-seeded New York but the Miami Heat win the second-round series over Washington 4-2. Bias is hobbled by a hip injury in Game 3 and cannot compete at his usual high level and will need surgery.
1997-98 Bias, a folk hero in Washington, struggles with the lingering hip injury. He is relegated to action in only 33 games. It’s the second time Bias deals with significant injury. But now in his twelfth season and 35 years old, Bias is noticeably less spry. His numbers fall drastically and Washington flounders, missing the playoffs. Many count Bias out and the Bullets determine they need to part ways with the aging, damaged star after three seasons.
1998-1999 The Los Angeles Lakers come calling in need of a veteran front court player. They contemplate Dennis Rodman and Len Bias. They take Bias for his ability to score. The Lakers lean on a young dynamic duo of Kobe and Shaq. Bias isn’t expected to contribute as he once did in Boston but a strike shortened season helps Bias’ body heal. He surpasses expectations in a role shared with Robert Horry but the Lakers as a team disappoint. Len Bias is happy and likes the direction of the young team. Retirement talk starts but Len will play into the new millennium.
1999-2000 Bias settles into a supporting role and the Lakers start to role the West. He averages only 19 minutes and 10.1 points a game. The Lakers ride Kobe and Shaq to the top seed and blast through the Western playoffs. In the playoffs Bias’ minutes go down but his production goes up. He is used as a spot up shooter….deadly on the baseline. He uses brain over brawn now. Bias still averages 12 points in the Finals against the Pacers. The Lakers win 4 games to 1. Bias plays most of the fourth quarter in Game 5 to serenades of “Len-ny Bi-as……Len-ny Bi-as.” He’d become a fan-favorite in LA and treats them with 22 points in the clinching game. Bias has won his 4th ring – one less than his rival Jordan who will eventually resurface in Washington. Bias chooses not to pursue the 5th ring in LA, one that looks like a sure thing. He retires at 37. It is a fitting end-point.
For his career he averages over 25.01 points a game, thirteenth all-time, in 14 seasons. He averages 8.8 rebounds. He shoots 81% from the free throw line. His pure numbers put him in company with the likes of Karl Malone and Julius Erving. He makes 8 All-Star teams. Three times is on the All-Defensive team. He wins one MVP award, one Finals MVP and one Gold Medal. He wins 4 NBA Titles, 3 in nine seasons in Boston and 1 in LA. His number is raised to the rafters in Boston in 2004. He is elected to the NBA Hall of Fame in 2005. He goes 2-3 in playoff series against the greatest player ever and his main rival, Michael Jordan. They are to the 90’s what Magic and Bird were to the 80’s.