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Readers respond to column on Len Bias
From the Page 2 mailbag
|Bill Simmons' piece on the death of Len Bias touched many of Page 2's readers. Here are a few of their e-mails:
I would like to tell Bill Simmons "Thank you" for his wonderful article on Len Bias. I was too young to be into college basketball when Len played for Maryland, but at a basketball camp when I was 12 they showed a video about Len, I was amazed. I never saw a player do the things he did on the court, not even Jordan. I will never forget him blocking a shot that must have been at least 15 feet at the top of it's arc. I think Bill did a great job capturing the frustration and pain that so many felt and still feel about Len's death. It is true that his death not only hurt the Celtics but the game of basketball and the nation also.
I didn't grow up in Boston, and Len Bias was before my time (I'm 22), but I remember having felt that indescribable feeling of loss after hearing about the death of Kurt Cobain, a musician from the early '90s. Cobain's death was also partly induced by drugs (he killed himself, but was having problems with heroin and fame). I remember the day that I found out about his suicide. I felt like I was in a daze for days, wondering if Kurt Cobain was really dead. It is shocking to admit, but I felt more sadness reading about Cobain's funeral than I did when going to funerals of relatives. There is something about watching athletes and entertainers that we all identify with. Len Bias had incredible raw talent to fly towards the basket, Allen Iverson has incredible heart and spirt, Shaq is the dominating force we all want to be sometimes, and Kurt Cobain wrote haunting songs about adolescence and pain. I don't know why we feel such sadness for people we have never met or seen in person; maybe it is the ability to see someone's talent blossom on display, and then seeing it disappear. What if Len Bias didn't OD and flew with the Bird and led Boston to many more championships? What if Kurt Cobain wrote another five ground-breaking albums? I think Bill Simmons felt great sadness in seeing Len Bias' talent go unfulfilled, just as I felt that Kurt Cobain left a distinct sound in the music world that will never be heard again.
As a Maryland alumnus and someone who actually knew Lenny and was friendly with him, I shared many of Bill's feelings. I would like to clarify my strong belief about Lenny's drug history before that tragic night. Quite simply, he had none. There were other players on the Terps that had a reputation for partying, doing drugs and drinking. Lenny was not one of those. He kept to himself, was quiet and was very apprehensive about strangers. The fraternity that I belonged to at Maryland housed some of the players over several summers. Many of my fraternity brothers became friendly with the players and, over time, we gained their trust. I witnessed some interesting goings on. None of those occurrences involved Lenny at all. He did visit the fraternity house occasionally and was welcome there. He watched comedy movies, comedy specials and played some pool. Speaking of which, one of my better memories of Lenny, other than his amazing playing ability, was the time that I beat him in a game of 8-ball. My friend, who was watching, thought Lenny was going to get angry with me for beating him. On the contrary, he congratulated me on a nice game and went to visit others within the house. I do disagree with Bill on one statement. I did want to watch the ESPN Classic special on Lenny. In addition, I must mention that the Sports Illustrated issue, with Lenny on the cover, with the caption, "Death of a Dream" is the only Sports Illustrated issue that I have ever kept. I still wonder what type of a career he would have had and believe that he would have achieved the same status of Michael Jordan. I also firmly believe that he would have been more than able to guard Jordan one-on-one and give him nightmares.
He will always be Lenny to me. I attended the University of Maryland throughout Lenny's college career. I still vividly remember him walking the halls of my dorm to visit friends. I never missed a home game and saw several road ACC games and couple of ACC Tournaments in that time span. You have very eloquently described my feelings even today, some 15 years later. You see, this incident created the same havoc with the Maryland basketball program as it did with the Celtics. Very soon, Lefty was gone, inept and ill-equipped Bob Wade was gone, the Terps were now bottom feeders in the ACC and NCAA probation was looming. It took over 10 years for recruiting to revive and the team to come around to where it had been when Lenny was drafted. And we still couldn't win any big ones. Was my alma mater cursed by the tragedy of Lenny Bias? I too was dismayed, beaten up and generally sad. I hated it all. I can still watch that MD/UNC game, though. Thanks for the memories, even though they are bittersweet.
Though Bill Simmons' article was extremely well written and very passionate, it had an unsettling effect on me all morning. Mr. Simmons examines his pain from the perspective of a Boston fan, i.e., what the Bias-led Celts might have been. However, Simmons fails to connect any reader outside the pompous circle of arrogant New Englanders. West of Springfield, who the hell cares? What of Len Bias, the man? Where are the what-ifs of Len Bias, the human being? Simmons wonders how many points, rebounds, and tattoos Len or Lenny may have, and I am left to wonder ... is that it? Is that all the matters 15 years later? Poor Bostonians suffering another mythical and magical curse from the sports gods? Not a great way, Mr. Simmons, to memorialize your hero. The reason the article left me unsettled is this: I walked away feeling more sorry for poor Bill Simmons than Len Bias. Shame on you, Bill.
Darryl L. Andrzejewski
Allendale Township, Mich.
What an amazing article. I think it's the first to truly capture the feelings and emotions we had and still have. I'm not sure I if I should congratulate Bill or scream at him for so vividly bringing back all the emotions that still stir in my head unsettled. I feel like the naive 15-year-old kid that I was when Len Bias died that day all those years ago. I still can't make sense of it. And I hate it, too.
Being an avid hoops fan, and having grown up in the Northeast as well as in ACC country, Chapel Hill, NC, I remember the day Len Bias died like it was yesterday. I was only 10 years old at the time of Bias' passing, but I remember being physically shaken after hearing the news. Being young and never having known anyone to die before, I remember going outside in the driveway and imitating the moves I'd seen him terrorize my beloved Tar Heels with, thinking that might bring him back.
Van Nuys, Calif.
What can I say but that it took me back to that day. I, too, grew up a Celtic fan. I have never set foot in the city of Boston, but I grew up watching basketball at the twilight of the careers of Havlicek, Cowens and the like. I had no geographic ties to the team, but the tradition and the pride drew me in. I was crushed when Hondo retired. I remember wondering just how good this hick from Indiana was going to be. I celebrated the victories and agonized over the losses (I was ridiculed in my house, because I cried when the Celtics lost). And I was one excited 18-year old when they drafted Len Bias. But then it all changed. I'll never forget where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news. And I'll never get over the effect it had on me. That did more to scare me away from cocaine than any talk from Dad, After School Special or lecture from a Guidance Counselor. What a beautiful piece of writing. Through it, I relived every agonizing moment of that tragic chain of events.
Kansas City, Mo.
I thought of Len Bias when Maryland reached the Final Four for the first time ever this year. Len Bias' death took Maryland's prodigious basketball program and promising football program (remember Boomer Esiason and Insides Sports' declaration that Maryland was No. 1 in 1984?) down, as well. Fifteen years later, Gary Williams has brought the basketball program back, but the football program, ironically, has never recovered.
I was 17 when he died, and I will never forget my brother waking me up that morning and telling me my favorite hoops player was dead. I thought it was the cruelest joke anyone could play on another. After watching ESPN, I realized it was true. My brother and I used to play a game of one on one. I was always Len Bias and he was always Pearl Washington. Whenever I think of Len Bias I always get sad, but I also get very mad because I feel like he took something away from me when he died. Who would believe that something that happened 15 years ago to someone I never met would affect me so profoundly. As I got older and saw other people doing coke, I always thought of Len Bias and I always passed on it. Maybe that was the legacy he left, but just once I would have liked to see that fast break with Bias, Bird and McHale.
I just read your article on Len Bias and it touched me very deeply. I am a little older than Bill Simmons and remember Len Bias very fondly. I attended Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, which is the same school Bias attended. I went to school with his younger brother Jay, which is another tragedy. I was a basketball junkie growing up, and Len Bias was my fix. I idolized that man. He had so much ability and potential even as far back as high school. Can you believe that he was lightly recruited out of high school? If I remember correctly, he was only offered by Maryland and N.C. State. He totally dominated the ACC his senior year. I too remember him singlehandedly beating UNC. What a performance! I never saw Jordan dominate like that during his college career. When he died it was the saddest day in my life. I had lost my idol. Being a white man and calling a black man my idol was still something that was not popular in the mid-'80s. I didn't care. I still have all the newspaper clippings of his career and keep an old Maryland "34" jersey in my closet and won't let anyone near it. I want to thank you for still thinking about Len. I too cannot bring myself to watch those classic shows about him. It still hurts too much.
University Park, Md.
I grew up in the D.C. area, played high school basketball in this area between 88-92, and remember meeting Len Bias at a basketball camp at George Mason University. when I was 10, where he spoke with us, then put on a display of dunks. When he died it was devastating to everyone who was a basketball fan in this area. There is nothing worse than potential unfulfilled. What if, what if ... that is the worst part of it all.
San Bernardino, Calif.
Bill, I identify so greatly with your (article) that I had to write. I was 16 at the time he died, just like you. However, I had nothing to do with Maryland or the Celts. I was a Rockets' fan, and had developed a strong hate/respect for the Celts, as many people did at the time. Losing Len Bias was universal, though. It didn't matter who drafted him. I was breathless. To this day, I remember him frequently, and talk about his legacy with people I know. I was 16 and very impressionable. I was a good kid, and probably not inclined to get into drugs, but this removed any doubt. Here was -- in my mind -- the perfect human physical specimen. 6-8, 230, and skills beyond my wildest dreams. One brief moment with cocaine (as we were told at the time), and it was all over. Shock didn't begin to describe it. The message to me was loud and clear then, and still is: If a hit of coke can stop this man's heart in an instant, who the hell am I to think it can't stop mine? Just like you said -- a human anti-drug commercial. Scared straight. Thanks for the article.
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