Maryland's 24-Year Wound That Fails To Heal: Remembering Len "Frosty" Bias
I write this with a heavy heart.
Not because I am Maryland fan (Georgetown is my school) but because I was HIS fan. I am from HIS area (Southeast DC and Prince George's County) and I really know what HIS death meant us. Not just to the school he went to but to the region and to the black community where he grew up.
A tragedy so strong that it rocked a nation, a prominent college basketball program and area, and one of the most storied professional franchises in the National Basketball Association.
He was haled as the savior and bridge from old to new for the Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parrish Boston Celtics that were aging. The truth was he was the torch that shined the brightest and attracted players to the University of Maryland. His success would have tunneled future players to the College Park campus.
We called him "Frosty." This was okay for people from "around the way." When he introduced himself to one of us and he liked you, he would tell you his name was Frosty. This was okay because we were his people
To people who really had no idea who he was, he was Len. Len Bias that is.
When ESPN showed this part of their 30 for 30 series, I almost cried.
I had to run away from my wife and I just stared at a shirt that I will never wear, at a jersey that I framed and tagged with a name plate that says,"THE REAL GOAT," meaning greatest of all time.
Instantly I was thrust back to 1986 when I was 11. I was naive and did not know and feel the full impact of his death.
Cheers and tears of triumph from the area when the Boston Celtics made him the second overall pick in the NBA draft that year were replaced by uncontrollable screams and sadness. Those are memories that are unrivaled in my memory to this very day.
It was not until months later when I saw the NBA All-Star game that I new the impact of his death.
Looking at Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkens, Magic Johnson and countless others did not thrill me. Watching Bias move on a basketball court however sent chills up my back.
Standing 6'9" and weighing a chiseled 240 pounds, he had a man's body with guard skills that had not been seen at that time. They would not be seen until Kevin Garnett was drafted. He was what he had hoped and what we believed. Forget trying to be like Mike, we wanted to be like Len.
To us he was our patron saint. The one person who could do no wrong. The person we saw, grew up with, and interacted with. From Go-Go music to going to the Capital Center and watching the games, he was an extension of the Beltway that was going national. He was going to show the world what being from D.C. and MD was about—what kind of players really came from round the way.
Let me display a more vivid picture, imaging the MVP Kevin Garnett moving and handling the basketaball with a third-year LeBron James body. Congratulations, you've now met Len Bias, the one and only hope DC/Maryland area hoop dream that mattered.
He made it cool to like Maryland even though the majority of the area was in love with Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. That feeling would not return for me again until Walt Williams starred at Maryland years later.
There have been superstars in the area before Bias. Adrain Dantley, Phil Chenier, Dave Bing, Elgin Baylor, and Austin Carr to name a few.
Future college and professional stars after him range from the aforementioned Williams to Johnny Dawkins, Johnny Rhodes, Randolph Childress, Juan Dixon, Grant Hill, Steve Francis and Kevin Durant. All are, or were, talented and performed admirably in college and the pros.
All of them, however, pale in comparison to the promise and talent "Frosty" displayed on the court. As talented as they were, they all fail to live up to the shadow he has created over the metro area.
When I reminisce about the poetry he played with and the effortless talent and physical gifts that he possessed, it hurts because the promise was unfulfilled and cast a shadow a national championship would not dissolve.
"He had life when life wasn't popular," local sportscaster Rick "Doc" Walker said in an upcoming documentary about Bias.
Smooth, strong, coachable, and humble, Bias had a controlled anger that is only rivaled by LeBron and, in some cases, now Kobe Bryant.
The city has not recovered because his tales are lore that is passed down from elder to child still to this day. The University of Maryland has done well in recent years but if you ask people who live their they will still tell you that he was the greatest player that played in the school and that the area has ever produced.
Critics still believe so as well. During ESPN's 25th anniversary, they did a 25-year All-Conference basketball team for every conference. The very first selection for the ACC, without hesitation, Len Bias.
It came full circle when his younger brother Jay was murdered after the husband of a store clerk accused him of flirting with his wife. That's what makes this more sad than anything else.
When he died, Lefty Driesel—who had coached Maryland for over 20 years—would be forced to leave the program. His former teammates Keith Gatlin, Jeff Baxter, Tony Massenburg, and others would have to carry the torch and scar for the program still to this day.
The players and fans were still waiting after his death. For what, you might ask? For him to walk thru the door? Waiting for him to make his professional debut with the Boston Celtics? Waiting for an admiration which still has never come.
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