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|Bias got to wear the hat, but never got to wear the uniform.|
|Scoop Jackson reflects on basketball's ultimate martyr, Len Bias, and the moment when he became immortal.|
|Remembering Len Bias: 20 Years Later|
|In death, Bias may have had more impact than if he had lived.|
Most would argue Michael Jordan is the most influential because of his global impact on commerce, or Babe Ruth because of his role in making baseball an American institution, or Muhammad Ali for his defiant stance against the war in Vietnam and his appeal in the Third World. They were reflections of social movements and represent periods of time, but those men didn't directly change the way people behaved. By dying, Bias did something no public service announcement could accomplish -- his death made cocaine no longer cool. In the Washington Post on June 9, Bias' mother Lonise said that over the last 20 years, a countless number of people have told her that they stopped snorting blow the day Len died. That makes perfect sense. Bias might have ingested enough cocaine to kill two or three smaller men, but he looked invincible to anything earthly. His arms and legs were magnificently sculpted, in a time that preceded the popularity of weight training in basketball. He looked cut from granite, but still was lithe and possessed flexibility that made his game more graceful than powerful. And his game was pretty friggin' powerful. If cocaine could stop his heart, God knows what it could do to the average man. That was definitely enough to make the average man take pause. It surely was enough to make my friends and me take pause. Because no matter how many times we might -- or might not -- have puffed the magic dragon, not once have we considered a line of cocaine. Whenever we heard someone had been arrested for cocaine possession, we had a standard response. "Hasn't he heard of Len Bias?" In that respect, Bias was a martyr of sorts. He wasn't heroic, but his death made it abundantly clear that cocaine was no joke. It wasn't the harmless good time many considered it to be. It could kill you, especially if it could kill Len Bias. It should also be noted that dying of an overdose should not have made Bias a demon, either. He made a terrible mistake, one his mother -- who lost another son, Jay, to gunfire in the parking lot of a shopping mall -- has had to live with for two decades. That didn't make him a bad person. It proved he was prone to irresponsibility, which made him different from approximately zero 22-year-olds in the history of the world. One year after Bias' death, Michael Wilbon wrote a magnificent column that expressed his fear that athletes didn't take heed of what Bias did to himself, and that children might not, either. Nineteen years later, I hope Wilbon's fears have been assuaged. There are plenty of people who remember what happened to Bias. My brother, 13 years my senior, had just finished his freshman year of college when Bias died. He's told me stories about how common cocaine was when he was in school, and it sounds foreign to me and many of my contemporaries. Bias has a lot to do with that. And it's the reason that jersey is one of my prized possessions. Even though I don't wear it much, it stays at the top of one of my drawers. It represents too much for me to throw it into storage. Though he died in disgrace, I hope Len Bias rests in peace. He's been too important for me to wish for anything less. Bomani Jones is a frequent contributor to Page 2. Tell him how you feel at firstname.lastname@example.org.