Since a memorial service at a sweltering, standing-room only Cole Field House was held a few days after Len Bias' death in June 1986, there has been little official connection between the former basketball All-American and the University of Maryland.
But nearly three decades after his fatal cocaine overdose, and the fallout that led to significant changes at the school, Bias will formally be recognized by Maryland when he is inducted posthumously into the Terps’ athletics Hall of Fame.
Bias and seven others will be honored at a ceremony Oct. 3.
“It’s great to hear about Lenny,” said his former coach Lefty Driesell, who was forced to resign after 17 seasons in the tumult that followed Bias’ death. “I was elated that he got in. It’s a long time coming.”
Wednesday’s announcement ends more than a decade of heated debate, much of it centered on one of the bylaws of the selection committee which stipulates that any candidate can be rejected for bringing “embarrassment or disrepute” to the university, regardless of his or her athletic accomplishments or contributions.
Kevin Glover, executive director of the M Club, which oversees the selection process, said that it came down to the committee of about a dozen former athletes and current coaches looking more at what the muscular 6-8 power forward did on the court than what happened to him on the last night of his life after a party in his campus dormitory.
“I just think the selection committee took a lot of time and effort to look at his stats, to look at his accomplishments while he was here as a student-athlete and we just felt like the time was right,” said Glover, a former Maryland football star who does not have a vote on the committee.
“We all know it’s a very sensitive issue. A lot of changes were made to the university back in the day because of this situation [Bias' death]. Once we discussed it and the votes came in, we decided it was time to move forward and honor one of our greatest student-athletes ever.”
Bias left Maryland as the school’s all-time scorer with 2,147 points. (He has since been passed by both Juan Dixon, who now ranks first on the list, and Greivis Vasquez.) Bias led the Terps to the 1984 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title, the school’s first in 26 years. He was a two-time ACC Player of the Year.
His death, two days after he was drafted second overall by the reigning NBA champion Boston Celtics, caused an upheaval in both the athletic department and the university as a whole.
Several high-profile members of the athletic department, including athletic director Dick Dull and football coach Bobby Ross, left within months of Bias’ death.
University chancellor John B. Slaughter also departed while changes were being made regarding drug testing, special admission of athletes and academic support for athletes.
Even as the Terps’ men’s basketball program rebounded, and eventually won a national championship in 2002 under Gary Williams, Bias was rarely mentioned in the celebration.
But athletic director Kevin Anderson took a small step this winter by featuring Bias’ picture on a basketball game ticket.
The reaction to the gesture was positive, Anderson said later. He wasn’t involved in the process to elect Bias to the Hall of Fame but said Wednesday that he was pleased with the result.
“Everyone’s excited about this,” Anderson said. “I’m very excited about that day, and I can’t wait for the induction ceremony.”
An athletic department spokesman said that the response on social media has been “very positive.”
Along with Bias, Bob Boniello (men’s lacrosse), Edward G. Cooke (track and football), Maureen Scott Dupcak (field hockey and lacrosse), Alex Kehoe (women’s lacrosse), Debbie Lytle (women’s basketball), Charlie Wysocki (football) and longtime athletic trainer Sandy Worth will be inducted.
Efforts to reach Bias’ family for reaction were unsuccessful.
Dave Ungrady, a 1980 Maryland graduate and former Terps athlete, helped keep the discussion about Bias going with his 2011 book “Born Ready: The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias.”
Ungrady, who was a proponent of Bias getting into the Hall of Fame, said that those on the selection committee who had voiced opposition to Bias' candidacy are likely to have either left the group or do not have as much influence as they did before.
“About four years ago, I was told by a couple of members, ‘He’ll be in, just give it time,’” said Ungrady, who played soccer and was the captain of Maryland’s track team as a senior.