There are very few people born after 1975 with ties to the DMV that don’t have an emotional reaction to the name Len Bias.
To many, he was the representation of what Maryland basketball could be at its best; a homegrown talent with ability harnessed from the outer regions of athletic imagination.
But to kids growing up in the 80’s in the Washington-Metropolitan area, Bias was simultaneously a triumph of the spirit and a tragedy of the heart.
Seeing your father and guys in the neighborhood talk about Len Bias was the kind of thing that stirred you to boldly dream amongst the asphalt and hardwood.
You could gloat that you knew somebody that knew somebody that knew Len Bias, and still be unafraid to imagine that his moves in Cole Field House were as effective and as graceful as your own in your backyard or neighborhood court.
And then he put his face into a plate of cocaine and died. Just as short and as painful as that sentence was to read and write is as painful as it was to hear in the summer of 1986.
The documentary “Without Bias” has awakened much of the sorrow and remembrance of Len Bias in basketball fans across the country, but it’s difficult for me and countless other DMV kids to not monopolize the gut-wrenching sadness that we carry about Bias, even today.
It’s one thing for you to gain perspective on Bias’ death and the impact on federal drug laws, social awareness amongst athletes, etc.
But if you aren’t from here, if you haven’t been in gyms and malls and churches where Bias has been, you’ll never know what it’s like to see a dream die.
The D.C Metro area is not like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, where the roots of the city commonly bear fruit of fame and celebrity across multiple venues of sports and entertainment.
The DMV has had it’s fair share of rags-to-riches stories, but none of been as riveting and so resonant of the moments of celebrity hubris that cost so much more than a river of tears and a boatload of ‘what if?’ headlines.
Countless musicians and entertainers have died, but there’s only one Marvin Gaye.
And perhaps it is the immediacy that plagues us. We’re from an are where red tape, long Metro lines and waiting for parking are common everyday occurrences.
We don’t do too well with the spontaneously tragic; we don’t react with composure to instant tragedies that rendered no prior symptoms or signs.
The most adequate way to describe the feeling is worrying about a sibling in trouble. The entire world can logically wrap its mind around why your sibling will be okay, and why you shouldn’t trouble yourself with what is far too beyond your scope of control.
But it’s your sibling; someone you grew up with, someone you respect and value. Your anxieties aren’t assuaged by exterior sympathy.
And there are some that say that people die everyday, that the world is filled with self-destruction and wastes of talent that are far more severe that that of Len Bias.
And it is illogical to invest so much into one example of poor decision making and association, when there is an entire culture to take down.
But that’s the thing about bias; logic doesn’t matter. The bigger picture stays in the corner. All you can focus on is the one fleeting image of a life and a passion you’ll never be able to reenact.
You put the sadness in a box and when the conversation or time is right, you bring it out for people to try and share your grief.
But they can’t. You don’t want them to. Because in the end, for all they think they know and understand, they’ll never be Biased enough to feel your pain.