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The Cruelest Thing Ever
Jack McCallum
June 30, 1986
Such was the reaction to the death of Len Bias, a Maryland All-America and Celtic-to-be. An autopsy showed that cocaine was involved in the tragedy
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June 30, 1986

The Cruelest Thing Ever

Such was the reaction to the death of Len Bias, a Maryland All-America and Celtic-to-be. An autopsy showed that cocaine was involved in the tragedy

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Brian Waller is Bias's oldest friend, a former high school teammate and forward at Providence who had also discussed drugs with him. "I remember we used to tell each other that we'd be in situations when we might be forced into using drugs," Waller said. "We knew we had to be strong. You know, I'm convinced he'd still be here today if I was with him the night he died. I'll carry that with me always."

On June 15, two days before the draft, Bias visited Waller at his home in Landover, Md., just a few blocks from Bias's parents' home. Waller said his friend was "pumped, unbelievably excited about going to New York." That feeling of excitement continued. According to Lee Fentress, his agent, Bias tossed and turned in his room at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City the night before the draft. He dreamed that he had overslept and kept running and running but couldn't get to the Felt Forum. Finally, he woke up—at 5:30 a.m.

Running and running. That's about all Bias had been doing for the last couple of weeks. Late on the afternoon of June 17, after completing a long round of interviews at the draft, the newest and proudest Celtic flew to Boston with his father, James. Again wearing the Celtics cap, he went through another blur of interviews with the Boston media. His best answer may have been "BLT and fries" when Celtic general manager Jan Volk asked him what he wanted to eat. "He was as happy as any player I've ever signed," Auerbach said later.

The next day, last Wednesday, Fentress and Bias visited the Boston offices of Reebok, the shoe company, where they came to a handshake endorsement agreement that Fentress said would provide Bias "financial security for life." Bias sounded tired but happy when he called Driesell at about 3 p.m. from the Reebok offices.

At about six that evening Bias went to the Hyatt in Cambridge for a Reebok reception. Celtic guard Danny Ainge was there with his kids and jokingly asked if Bias could baby-sit next season. They shared some laughs and sipped 7-UP. "The guy was just so excited that everything he had dreamed of had come true," says Ainge. Bias and his father flew back to Washington that evening and went immediately to the family's home in Landover. At about 11:30 p.m. Bias left the house, bound for the Maryland campus.

Events of the next seven hours—events that are crucial in determining how Bias died and whether or not any charges will be filed in connection with his death—vary from account to account. This rough chronology has emerged:

Around midnight, Bias, driving his leased Datsun, arrived at Washington Hall, the dormitory where he shared a suite with five teammates. Bias was living in the dorm while attending summer school. He had been saying that he was about nine credits short of graduation, but The Washington Post reported that he failed three of his five spring semester courses and withdrew from the other two, leaving him 21 credits short. Such a poor academic showing in the senior year is common for a big-time athlete who spends so much time away from campus.

All of his suitemates were on hand—Maryland basketball players Terry Long, Phil Nevin, Jeff Baxter, David Gregg and Keith Gatlin. So was Keeta Covington, the Terps' all-ACC defensive back. According to Covington, several of the group ate crabs and talked. If it was a party, it was a quiet one, because a student who lives next door said he didn't hear a sound. Covington said that questions flew fast and furious at Bias, until he finally said he wanted to get away. He left the dorm around 2 a.m.

Where he went is unclear. Some reports placed him with one Brian Tribble. The police said they were seeking Tribble, a former Maryland student who last attended classes in 1983, for questioning but had not talked to him as of Monday. Waller confirmed that Bias and Tribble were friends. Another report put Bias at a party near campus in an apartment rented by Tribble. Still another put him at a gathering attended by several football players at Allegany Hall, a Maryland dormitory. The most distressing report, given to District of Columbia police by an informant, placed Bias and another man around Montana and New York avenues in the Northeast section of the District, an area notorious for drug deals. When an SI writer and photographer went to the site last Friday evening, D.C. police were in the process of arresting a drug dealer.

It is possible that Bias visited all those places before returning to his suite around 5 a.m. Gatlin, Baxter and Nevin were reportedly asleep when he returned. Long and Gregg have made no public comment on the events of that morning. Meanwhile, most of the speculation about Bias's final hours has centered on Tribble.

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