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Len Bias Remains the Biggest “What-If” in Boston Celtics History

The Boston Celtics logo is seen on the parquet floor at center court before the game between the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards at TD Garden.

Len Bias, by all means, is one of the greatest basketball players in history who never played in the NBA. In fact, some would tell you he is the greatest without question. Drafted by the Boston Celtics with the second pick in the 1986 NBA draft, Bias was joining a team that was coming off their 16th championship in franchise history. The hope was that Bias would usher in a new era once Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish called it quits. The Chicago Bulls had Michael Jordan, the Houston Rockets had Hakeem Olajuwon, and the San Antonio Spurs had David Robinson. The Boston Celtics were supposed to have Bias. However, Bias died two days after the draft due to “cocaine intoxication,” news that shocked everyone in the NBA world, and he never suited up for the Celtics.

In honor of what would be his 60th birthday on November 18, let’s remember the legend that was Bias.

Len Bias Remains the Biggest “What-If” in Boston Celtics History

What Made Bias So Great?

Anybody who knows anything about Bias likely knows about his comparisons to Jordan. John Salley, Jordan’s teammate in 1996, believed Bias was at least an equal to “His Airness”:

“He’s 6’9, 185 pounds with two percent body fat. He jumps 39, 40 off the floor and shoots the long. He’s the most talented player in the ACC, same league Michael Jordan came from. He towers over Michael, with the same tenacity, the same game.”

Salley added that Bias was “a guy who’s three inches taller than Michael, plays like Michael. That’s what literally he was known as.”

In his fourth and final season at Maryland, Bias averaged 23.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game on 54.4 FG%. To compare, during Jordan’s final year at North Carolina two years prior, he averaged 19.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game on 55.1 FG%. Granted, Bias had one extra year of collegiate experience, but it’s hard to deny the numbers. Additionally, then assistant coach and chief scout of the Celtics, Jimmy Rodgers, said, “Looking at his physical qualities, like James Worthy and Michael Jordan, he can run, jump and shoot. You can put him in their category.”

As it was, Bias was one of the most complete players ever heading into the 1986 NBA draft. He could score from anywhere, had great size, and was a good defender. Plus, he was heading into arguably the greatest situation a rookie could join. After having one of the greatest NBA seasons ever in 1986, the Celtics were in prime position to contend well after their “Big Three” was gone. Also, let’s not forget that Bill Walton, the 1978 NBA MVP, was on this same Celtics team. Bias was going to have a fountain of knowledge coming from these four legends alone. This isn’t even factoring in what he might’ve learned from then executive and 16-time champion Red Auerbach.

The potential of a Hall of Fame career was clear as day for the Maryland native.

The Last Word on Len Bias

We’ll never know how good Bias’ NBA career would have been. By the sounds of it, he could’ve been one of the NBA’s greatest players of all time. It’s interesting to think about where the Celtics franchise would be with Bias. Assuming he’s even just an NBA All-Star at best, there’s no reason to believe Boston wouldn’t win another ring or two with their “Big Three.” As we know now, Bird was planning to retire in 1988 if Bias played. Bird passing the torch to Bias could have allowed the team to remain successful in the 1990s. Instead, more bad news related to the tragedy of Reggie Lewis and on-court disappointments highlighted the dark years of the Celtics franchise.

I wasn’t around in 1986, but I know a few people who were. They all say Bias was going to bring titles to Boston and have his number hanging up in the rafters. That’s how good he should’ve been. Growing up as a Celtics fan, I can’t imagine how I would’ve reacted to the news of Bias’ death. It’s always interesting to me when I look into his career and watch his Maryland highlights.

As it is, Bias will always have a “what-if” attached to his name. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Unfortunately, we will never know what Bias could’ve brought to the NBA. He was already an elite prospect and was only getting better and more mature. Still, it’s easy to remember the Bias that played for the Maryland Terrapins – one of the most dominant college athletes that ever stepped foot on a basketball court.


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