SI Vault
Craig Neff
November 10, 1986
The cocaine death of Len Bias, the Maryland basketball star, has prompted criticism of the school's athletic policies—and last week led to coach Lefty Driesell's resignation
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November 10, 1986

One Shock Wave After Another

The cocaine death of Len Bias, the Maryland basketball star, has prompted criticism of the school's athletic policies—and last week led to coach Lefty Driesell's resignation

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Tribble will go on trial Nov. 17 in Prince George's County court on felony charges of cocaine possession and distribution, and obstruction of justice. If convicted, he would face, as a first-time drug offender, roughly two years in prison.

Tribble does not discuss the events of June 19. But he rhetorically poses the question of who's to blame when someone in a group dies from cocaine supplied by another member of the group. "Would you feel like you killed him?" he asks. "There's plenty of people out there who use drugs. Plenty. If they get high and they die, I don't feel like I killed them. They're grown people."

At 5'9", Tribble stands nearly a foot shorter than his late friend. The two first met at Cole Field House during a pickup basketball game. Both were high school students, Tribble a senior, Bias a sophomore. In college they ran together a lot. They went to Washington nightclubs together. Tribble spent much of his time at Bias's dorm. Today, says Tribble, he is 18 credits shy of a Maryland degree.

Tribble scrimmaged with a now-defunct junior varsity team while at Maryland, but his dreams of basketball glory ended there. After a 1982 motorcycle accident he sued the other driver for $1 million, claiming in part the loss of future income from a "career in professional basketball." Tribble received a $10,000 settlement and used part of the money, he says, to make a down payment on a used Mercedes-Benz 450SL.

That car, and the thick gold chains he wore, made some of Bias's other friends suspicious of Tribble, whose furniture refinishing business reportedly yielded only modest income. He has at least one arrest, for shoplifting, and, according to prosecutors, was placed on probation.

Tribble's mother, Loretta, says, without offering evidence, that police and prosecutors have bribed witnesses in the Bias case and concocted stories linking her son to murders, robberies and big dope dealers.

Meanwhile, Brian Tribble poses what may be the most salient question raised by the Bias controversy: Who bears responsibility for the actions of a 22-year-old college athlete?

"If he can whip North Carolina by his-self almost," Tribble says, "how you figure he can't think in life? So if he's doing what he wants, I don't see how I would feel bad. If I were to die, do you think all this would have happened? They'd say, 'Drug addict. God, he's stupid.' "

In recent years the University of Maryland has been rising steadily toward the ranks of the nation's better public universities. Average SAT scores at the school have risen 65 points (to a still modest 1,025) in the last five years. Scholarship money has increased to more than $40 million, of which less than $2 million goes to athletes. Thirteen of the school's academic departments are rated in the top 20 (public universities) in the nation by the National Science Foundation.

But that progress has been overshadowed by publicity surrounding the Bias controversy. For weeks and months those on the Maryland campus have pleaded for an end to what they consider persecution of the school. "The media have kept this in the forefront longer than the death of seven astronauts played," complains Tom Fields, the school's chief athletic fund-raiser.

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