Len Bias' legacy still resonates as he goes into Maryland's athletic Hall of Fame

Younger generation seems more interested in his hoops highlights than the circumstances of his death

  • Len Bias goes into Maryland's athletics Hall of Fame on Friday.
Len Bias goes into Maryland's athletics Hall of Fame on… (File photo )
October 02, 2014|By Don Markus | The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — Mark Turgeon's two distinct memories of Len Bias have lasted three decades.

The first occurred when Turgeon was a sophomore point guard at Kansas, sharing the same court at the Greak Alaskan Shootout with a junior rising star from Maryland.

"Dunked on him," the Terps coach joked this week.

In reality, Turgeon recalled how the muscular, 6-foot-8 power forward scraped his head on the bottom of the backboard after going in for a dunk.

"That was the first time I had seen that," Turgeon said. "I can't remember how he played, I just remember that we won. I remember how athletic he was. We put a lot of time into trying to stop him."

The other memory is one Turgeon shares with thousands of college basketball fans: where he was when he heard the news that Bias had died from a cocaine overdose in his campus suite two days after being the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft.

"I know exactly where I was. I was in Lawrence, Kansas out at Clinton Lake, we were out goofing around with a bunch of players," Turgeon said. "I was actually in the water and we had the radio on and it came across. It was a big blow even for a guy who didn't know him."

Turgeon will be at the Samuel Riggs Alumni Center on Friday night, when the late Bias will be among eight new members inducted into the school's athletic Hall of Fame. Members of the Bias family — including his mother Lonise, who did not respond to repeated interview requests from The Baltimore Sun — are expected to attend.

Bias' induction comes after years of often heated debate about his candidacy for the Hall of Fame, given the circumstances of his death.

When Bias' election was announced in July, Kevin Glover, who oversees the selection process as director of the school's M Club, said the committee looked at Bias' accomplishments — including leaving Maryland as the program's all-time leading scorer — and decided "the time was right."

The younger generation seems to associate Bias more with the stories of his on-court highlights than the details of his death 28 years ago, said Dave Ungrady, who authored "Born Ready: The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias" in 2011.

Ungrady, a former two-sport athlete at Maryland, witnessed the change while selling his book at Amateur Athletic Union tournaments.

"A lot of kids from [age] 8 through high school will come up to me and say, 'I've heard of Len Bias, but what's the story, what happened to him?,'" Ungrady said. "They know about him as a basketball player, but they don't know what happened to him. All they focus on is how good a player he was."

One of those conversations took place at a 2012 tournament in New Jersey, where a high school player named Karl Towns, now a freshman at Kentucky, was playing.

"He walked up and said, 'Len Bias, that's my favorite player'," Ungrady recalled. "You don't normally hear that from young players. His parents talked about how they loved Bias and the way he played. Karl said he loved the way he played above the rim."

Terps senior guard Dez Wells said he learned about Bias from his mother, a former college star herself at St. Augustine's University in Raleigh, N.C. Wells has spent more time talking with others about Bias since transferring to Maryland as a sophomore.

Like many of his peers, Wells has watched the YouTube clip of a matchup between Bias and Michael Jordan during the 1983-84 season a number of times. Wells compares Bias' dominance as an offensive player at Maryland to what LeBron James is doing in the NBA.

"When people say that we've never seen an athlete quite like [James], we have," Wells said. "We just don't appreciate the athlete that came before LeBron James because of the way he died. Once he passed away, everything great that he did was overshadowed by one mistake that he made."

Wells said he didn't like the ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary "Without Bias," because the 2009 film was centered so much on his death.

"They focused on things that really didn't make him who he was as a person," Wells said.

Fellow Maryland senior Jon Graham first heard of Bias when he was about 14 and asked his father, former Terps star Ernie Graham, about him.

"He [Bias] was like a little brother to my dad," Jon Graham said. "I watched a few clips of him to see what kind of player he was. He was amazing. He was absolutely amazing. If [the overdose] didn't happen, I felt like he would have been one of the greatest of all-time. There's always going to be that what-if factor."

Glover, who played high school basketball against Bias in Prince George's County and was a year ahead of him at Maryland, said he thinks younger players and fans are attracted to Bias as they are to other former legends whose careers were fulfilled.

"People realize there was a great player here who they didn't have an opportunity to see on the next level," said Glover, who returned to Maryland as an associate athletic director after playing in the NFL.

Though he doesn't use the circumstances surrounding Bias' death as a daily teaching tool for the current Maryland team, Turgeon said all of his players are aware of how Bias made himself into a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year.

"I do think they look at him as one of the all-time great players," Turgeon said. "Obviously probably the greatest player to play at Maryland, and [he] had a chance to be one of the greatest players to ever to play the game."

Bias is joined in this year's Hall of Fame class by Bob Boneillo (men's lacrosse, 1976-80), Edward G. Cooke (men's track & field and football, 1957-59), Maureen 'Bean' Scott Dupcak (field hockey and women's lacrosse, 1990-94), Alex Kahoe (women's lacrosse, 1996-00), Debbie Lytle (women's basketball, 1980-83), Sandy Worth (athletic trainer, 1973-present) and Charlie Wysocki (football, 1978-82).

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.