Bias' legacy includes more careful screening process

Len Bias: 20 years later


The death of former Maryland star Len Bias was not the only drug-related tragedy to taint the 1986 NBA draft. Chris Washburn, William Bedford and Roy Tarpley - the third, sixth and seventh picks, respectively - all saw their careers cut short by drug problems.

"It was a really good draft and guys found a way to screw it up," said college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, who had just finished his own college career at Duke and was a second-round draft choice that year.

Yet that troubled group might have had an impact in the way NBA general managers and scouts looked into the backgrounds and social habits of the players they were interested in drafting.

"It changed markedly [after Bias' death]," said New Jersey Nets president Rod Thorn, who was working in the league office at the time. "There were a few teams doing background checks back then; the majority now do it. You just want to make sure."

Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry, who was the No. 1 pick of the Los Angeles Clippers in 1989, thinks that the extensive nature of the current system has more to do with the fact that NBA franchises are now worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

"The risks and stakes are higher," Ferry said last week. "You talk to as many people as you can and go as deep as possible. There's also more [drug] testing in college than there was then, and more accountability."

At the time of the 1986 draft, drug testing was allowed only when an NBA team believed it had just cause. Currently, players are tested randomly throughout the season.

According to former Boston Celtics general manager Jan Volk, Bias was administered and passed a drug screening before the draft. It had nothing to do with the Celtics being suspicious of Bias, Volk said, but the team had been burned in the past by a former draft pick.

"As it turned out, we violated the collective bargaining agreement unknowingly," Volk recalled. "It was called to our attention subsequently by the players association after he had died and we said we had tested him and we suggested that if you want to fight that battle, this is probably not the time to fight it."

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