June 23, 2011
Twenty-five years ago, the Boston Celtics lucked into the second overall pick in the NBA Draft, even after coming off a championship season with a team that many consider to be the greatest of all time. They used the pick to select Maryland's Len Bias, who died two nights after the draft following a cocaine overdose. It's been 25 years, and his story won't ever stop being as sad as it was the night of his death.
Boston's front office took advantage of a desperate Seattle SuperSonics club that overrated fringe Boston starting guard Gerald Henderson(notes), dealing the off guard to Seattle for a lottery pick that ended up ranking second just behind Philadelphia's top overall pick. Philly was no slouch itself, three years removed from a championship, and it lucked into the top pick in the draft as a result of a seven-year old trade that dealt Joe "Jellybean" Bryant (Kobe's father) to the Los Angeles Clippers. And this is all just four years removed from the Los Angeles Lakers trading their way into taking James Worthy first overall, coming off of their own championship. In 1986, the rich were getting richer.
The rich, in 1986, were also using their riches on copious amounts of recreational drugs, and the NBA and its newest draftees were not immune. Bias could have been the link to several more Boston championships, or (far less likely) he may just have been a another nice player on Boston's roster. Whatever the NBA outcome, the loss of the young man was unnecessary, and 25 years later it's still a heartbreaking tale to reflect back upon.
But moving through the heartbreak, WEEI's Kirk Minihane has put together a must-read oral history detailing the lead-up to the Bias draft, and the fallout that came after Len's needless death. There's too much great stuff here to slough off with one pull quote, but I should offer one surprising anecdote from the era, one that saw the team with the top pick pass on even working out one of the top prospects available, in a draft that had a clear but not obvious first overall selection in Brad Daughrety.
But the Sixers never brought in Bias for a pre-draft workout, a scenario that would seem impossible today. In fact, Daugherty -- a player they were admittedly cool on -- was the only player who worked out for the Sixers.
Jack McMahon was our longtime scout. I said to him, 'What about Bias? Should we bring him in?' He said no. He said he wouldn't draft him. I said, 'Really, we won't consider him?' He said no. I said, 'Jack, tell me why.' He said, 'There's something about him that bothers me.' That was all he would say.
That surprises me. I'm surprised that they didn't look further. If they were not interested in Bias, it's kind of an interesting position given that Bias was a very intriguing player. I wonder if they knew more than they were saying.
For us, it was the wrong year to win the lottery. It was just a different field and we could not get comfortable. And we leaned so heavily on Jack, he was our eyes and ears. He just didn't like Bias and none of us were enamored with Daugherty.
There's a lot of that in this piece. Wayne Embry, then working as a consultant for the Indiana Pacers, also pointed out that Indiana didn't even consider trading up for nor drafting Bias had he fallen to them at the fourth spot in the draft. Bias wasn't regarded as a head-case, or someone dealing with noted drug issues. He even passed what was an illegal drug test with the Celtics prior to the draft. But there were whispers, and rumors.
And, in the days following the draft, the passing of a potentially great player and person that resonates to this day.
Put down the mock drafts, on this Thursday, and take in Minihane's documentation. You'll be glad, if also sad, that you did.