What Would Have Happened If Len Bias Did Not Die?

Richard JTContributor IIIMarch 3, 2010

it's ALL speculation, I'm aware of it.

However, debates about sports are all speculation, so here we go...

btw, this is all assuming Bias would have remained healthy and played and improved according to his abilities and work ethic as they existed at the time of his death.

Had Bias lived, it could very well have changed the course of the future history of the NBA. Having Bias in a Celtic uniform would have kept the Celtics as an Eastern Conference contender for many years. They may have well won the title again in 1987 (Lakers would have been tough in any case, and I was the biggest Laker fan in the world during Kareem's time there, but Boston was hurt by injuries in '87 and still took that awesome Laker team to six games). With Bias coming off the bench that year, it would have reduced the number of minutes that Bird, McHale, Parrish and Walton had to play, and that front line would have been healthier by the time the finals came around. It was already the greatest front line ever anyway, and adding Bias would have just made them even more devastating.

With Bias in the Celtic lineup, the Pistons and Bulls would have had to contend with a much better Celtic team in the future. I don't know what the Bulls first title run (91-93) would have looked like with Bias on the Celtics. But the East would certainly have been different.

Bias was definitely more advanced than Jordan while in college... but we have to keep in mind that Dean Smith of North Carolina ALWAYS stressed a total team attack, so guys that could have averaged well over 20 ppg (like Jordan) were held back (at least stat wise) by the style of play employed by Dean Smith... I've said this before, but it was a standing joke at the time that Dean Smith was the only guy in the country capable of holding Jordan under 20 ppg, and it was true! lol Had Jordan gone anywhere else but UNC, he could have been a 20-25 ppg scorer easily, especially after his freshman year. HOWEVER, by going to UNC, I believe Jordan came out of college as a better player than he would have been playing almost anywhere else. So playing for Smith hurt Jordan, stat-wise, but I believe it ultimately made him a better player.

It's difficult to say whether Bias would have been "better" than Jordan at the NBA level... the fact that Jordan had gone to a sorry team like the Bulls and Bias went to the defending World Champs certainly would have affected both their playing time as rookies and their stats... Bias would have come off the bench because, as great as he was, he was not better than Bird, Parrish and McHale. He would have played a lot of minutes, but they would have brought him along as quickly or as slowly as necessary.
Jordan just took off from day one and never looked back.

By the summer of 1992, Bias would have completed his 7th year in the NBA. It would not have been surprising to see him be strongly considered for the Dream Team (possibly instead of Chris Mullin). But that's even more speculative than picturing him as a Celtic in the late 80s. Bias would have turned 28 in November of 1991, so he'd be in his prime.

But imo, yes, Jordan would have had a harder time (which is not to say that the Bulls wouldn't have won any titles, it just would have been tougher), the Pistons would have had a harder time, and the Lakers would have had a harder time, had Bias lived and fulfilled even the majority of his "potential".

As a college player, he was awesome. And, by most accounts, he was a pretty humble guy...he came from a working class background. 

Red Auerbach of the Celtics had several meetings with Bias, and had a lot of in-depth interviews/conversations with him. Bias seemed to be a great kid. There is no way the Celtics would have drafted him if he displayed even the slightest hint of a character flaw.

And, even though he was the best player in college basketball in 1986, Red very quickly made him understand that he would only be the 4th best front-court player on the Celtics, who already had 4 future Hall of Famers in their frontcout (Parrish, Bird, McHale and the normally injury--prone Bill Walton, who was coming off his first and only NBA season of playing 80 games). The Celtics would have had the luxury of bringing Bias along as slowly or as quickly as they wanted. 

If Bias would have lived, the Celtics very well might have repeated in 1987. But without him, the Lakers' mid-season acquisition of Mychal Thompson to play the 4 and back up Kareem at the 5, tipped the balance of power in favor of Magic and the Lakers for the next two seasons. The Lakers won the next two NBA titles and became the first team in 19 years to repeat as NBA champions (since the 68 and 69 Celtics).

I don't know what Bias was trying to prove by trying cocaine that night, but his death was a devastating blow to the Celtics and to the NBA. He would have been one of the great ones.

Unlike a whole lot of great high school and college players of today, Bias was raised in a two parent home.

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