Nearly five months later, the grave is still little more than bare dirt. "Look for the flag," an official of the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery says, but the miniature American flag that marks the Suitland, Md., burial plot of Len Bias has long since been bleached almost beyond recognition. It is a toy flag, incongruous as a landmark. It is scarcely higher than one's shoe tops.
The site is a knoll overlooking forested valleys that are flush with autumn color. In contrast the grave itself is stark and plain. A few sprigs of crabgrass claw the empty ground. Two red silk flowers provide the only real color.
"Every day people come by," the official says later. "Policemen, congressmen, students, alumni and, of course, his parents. They're here all the time. Even some of the professional players have been around. Moses Malone visited once. John Thompson came by a couple of times."
There is no headstone, only a square of plastic-shielded paper three inches across. It has lines marked NAME and DATE. The name reads LEN BIAS. There is no date. A message reads: "This temporary marker is another of our friendly services. Please inquire at office about permanent markers."
That, for now, is the full epitaph of former University of Maryland basketball star Leonard Bias, who was selected by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA draft on June 17 and died two days later of cocaine intoxication.
"I know the family is discussing a tremendous monument to him," says the cemetery official, a vice-president whose name turns out to be Frank Bias, though he and Len's family are not related. He pauses. "But it hasn't materialized yet." Such monuments are said to be too expensive for Len Bias's parents, James and Lonise, to afford, at least at the moment. Their son died without life insurance or any written basketball or endorsement contracts. His financial legacy was a $21,000 debt, from two loans. His parents are now paying that off.
More than 10,000 people showed up at Cole Field House on the University of Maryland campus for a memorial tribute to Len Bias in June. They stood and cheered for a full three minutes. Jesse Jackson spoke. State flags flew at half-staff outside the arena. Many of the mourners cried, among them Charles (Lefty) Driesell, Maryland's longtime basketball coach.
On the morning of Oct. 29, about 200 reporters and cameramen were gathered at one end of Cole, waiting only for Lefty. An official announcement was due, a long-awaited announcement. The air was charged. Then, at the far end of the arena, Driesell entered. He is a big and rather awkward man, hard to miss. Driesell passed the foul line and mid-court and then the other foul line. He got to the lectern and tried to break the tension. "Looks like we have a pretty good crowd here," he said with a smile. "Maybe we should have charged admission."
Lefty said he was resigning. That made it sound better. Everyone knew he had been forced out, handed an assistant athletic director's job as a salve, but at a good price: $888,000 for eight years. Driesell spoke for a moment about his 17 years and 348 victories at the university and said the school had felt it was time for a change. That was all. He put his arms around his wife of 35 years, Joyce, and one of his two daughters and walked back down the floor. Some of the onlookers, students and athletic department staff, began to applaud. Driesell passed the midcourt line, the foul line, and then he was gone.
Lives have changed since Len Bias died. A university has lost an athletic director and a basketball coach. A family (see box, page 80) has tried to cope. Educators, students, attorneys and the media have all debated what it means, who's to blame, what really happened. Brian Lee Tribble, a friend of Len Bias's, may yet go to prison over his pal's death. The controversy has not ended.