The Day Innocence Died:
posted by justgary to basketball at 03:37 PM - 23 comments
She was working as a customer service manager at a bank back in June 1986 when her eldest son's death became a national headline. If you were alive then, and you cared at all about sports, or about drugs, you most likely remember it well. It was one of those moments -- like JFK, like Martin Luther King Jr., like the space shuttle Challenger earlier that same year -- when we, as a society, stopped and stared collectively into the void and declared that human existence was entirely unjust. Easy there, Michael Weinreb. This man expects us to take him and the article seriously after he compares the murder of a president, a great civil rights leader, and the tragic death of seven astronauts to the self inflicted death of a basketball player who chose to kill himself with cocaine? That is patently absurd. As Lefty Driscoll said in the article......"Len Bias changed absolutely nothing at all. Perhaps it was just a "bad accident." Perhaps the meaning of the demise of Leonard Kevin Bias is this: "Some guy was doing cocaine, and he died."
posted by tommytrump at 04:47 PM on June 27
This man expects us to take him and the article seriously after he compares the murder of a president, a great civil rights leader, and seven astronauts to the self inflicted death of a basketball player who chose to kill himself with cocaine? Well, one, the author tackled the subject from several sides. But two, the paragraph you quoted describes me perfectly. I was in high school, traveling across europe, and other than girls there was nothing more important to me than sports. I remember the exact moment I read his name on the front of a newspaper that I couldn't read (wasn't english), I remember how I felt, I remember climbing back onto our tour bus in shock. In short, I remember everything about it as if it was yesterday. The only thing I remember as well from that long ago is the challenger explosion. Comparing Bias to astronauts or a president isn't putting him on their level, but putting my reaction to their deaths on that level. Makes no difference if he was a basketball player or his death was self inflicted, he nails my reaction and feelings about that time perfectly.
posted by justgary at 05:02 PM on June 27
tommy: Yeah, tad overblown. I don't think Challenger exploding was proving existence was unjust. I think it showed the unbowed spirit of human endeavour. All those knew the risk, but pushed the boundaries for the furtherance of mankind. Some promising athlete who took cocaine died from his vices. Hardly compares. There's also the context of the comparison events. I grew up in England. Everyone who was alive remembered where they were when JFK died. MLK too in many cases. I can still remember vividly exactly what I was doing when I learned Challenger had exploded. (I was watching a kids show on ITV called CBTV and the host broke in, obviously shaken, and said they had to go to urgent newsflash.) I have no idea who EITHER of these guys are. This is some athlete dying of a drug overdose that, for 95% of people, would be of regional interest at best. Interesting article though, but DEAR GOD, it broke my hyperbole gauge within a few paragraphs, though I do like the opening hook of saying about visiting the graves... You're like "FUCK! GRAVES! WHERE THE FUCK IS THIS GOING! Oh some kid did drugs and died... Yeah, that's rare..." justgary: You may have had the reaction you did, and please don't think I'm belittling it, because I'm not. I react in a similar fashion when any racing driver is killed, whereas non-racing fans don't understand why. It's just the article is written as if THE ENTIRE WORLD STOPPED TURNING THAT DAY AS PEOPLE WERE GLUED TO THE NEWS like they were when JFK was assassinated, Challenger exploded etc... And what paper were you reading in Europe that had this on the front page? Since I was in my late teens at the time and read several newspapers every day and this story rings absolutely ZERO bells for me. Man, this is like I loaded several comments into a shotgun and then just fired them at the page. Ah well.
posted by Drood at 05:12 PM on June 27
And what paper were you reading in Europe that had this on the front page? Since I was in my late teens at the time and read several newspapers every day and this story rings absolutely ZERO bells for me. I actually don't remember. It was one of those deals where you visit 7 countries in 25 days so your head is spinning the whole time. I didn't buy the paper. I saw it in the stand and saw bias' picture. I couldn't read the words but I could tell enough to know it wasn't good and sort of figured it out. As far as the hyperbole, yeah, it's there. And if you're not in the intended audience I can see how it seems overblown. But for the intended audience it was big. If you don't follow horse racing, then it might seem silly to write an entire book about Sea Biscuit. Lastly, this is familiar territory for sports discussion. As soon as someone brings up real life (not sports) the next comment is always of the 'comparing sports to X' isn't right because it's just sports. I don't have that problem because the story lives in the realm of sports. I take it as the author saying a story affected the sports world as story X affected the non sports world. I don't have a problem with that, but I wish authors would avoid this technique since many object and then that debate becomes about that issue rather than the story. I mean, the title 'the day the innocence died' is going to sound silly to most people. But it's intended for those that had a stake in the story in the first place.
posted by justgary at 05:29 PM on June 27
Jesse Jackson claimed in eulogizing Bias -- likening him to Martin Luther King Jr., Mozart, Gandhi and Jesus... Jesse always did have a flair for the dramatic, but after you make these comparisons to a coked out basketball player, what do you say of a person who actually might have been like Gandhi or Mozart? I feel more for his mother, and commend her for trying to keep other kids from making the same stupid mistake.
posted by irunfromclones at 05:29 PM on June 27
I think if you were a Celtics fan this was very much like MLK and the like. I really find that disingenuine, but it seems to be the case. I mean, I see the impact of a Len Bias death, and then I think of Roberto Clemente. I guess the difference is one had the opportunity to make an impact and the other did not. Of course, the other difference is that one died delivering aid to earthquake victims and the other partying.
posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 05:41 PM on June 27
I guess the difference is one had the opportunity to make an impact and the other did not. I wouldn't say that. Bias death become THE cautionary tale for athletes with aspirations for living fast and making it big. That's a pretty big impact, and one he only achieved through death. Bias death and the events surrounding it were the harbinger for how the media would report and how society would reflect upon the shortcomings of our athletes.
posted by lilnemo at 06:03 PM on June 27
I mean, I see the impact of a Len Bias death, and then I think of Roberto Clemente. No disrespect, but I'm not sure how you read the article and come up with that comparison. We're taking the authors comparison of bias' death to other events and jumping a giant conclusion that he's calling them similar. Here's what he said about Bias: I do not know whether Len Bias was a martyr, or whether in death, as his mother often says, he has brought life. I do not know whether, as Jesse Jackson claimed in eulogizing Bias -- likening him to Martin Luther King Jr., Mozart, Gandhi and Jesus -- that the Lord "sometimes uses our best people to get our attention." I do not know whether Len Bias died for any reason at all, divine or otherwise, beyond the fact he ingested a massive amount of dangerously pure cocaine in a brief period of time, short-circuiting the electrical impulses to his heart muscle. I do not know whether, as many claim, the Boston Celtics would have extended the Bird-McHale-Parish dynasty by several seasons if Len Bias had lived. I do not know if he was the catalyst for another decades-long New England curse. I do not know whether he would have been better/as good as/in the same stratosphere as Michael Jordan if he had lived to play in the National Basketball Association. We can argue these issues all we like, but I believe that, because the answers to such questions can never be determined, the questions have become irrelevant, obscured by the mythology that Autopsy No. 86-999 has engendered. I'm assuming, and I could be wrong, that we're not really reading the article (and it's long) but jumping at a few lines and the general thought that the author is lamenting the death of someone that brought it on himself. When in actuality the article is much more than that. The event, the timing of the event, is important, so maybe someone who wasn't there, or didn't care, looks at it as just a story about another athlete throwing it all away, and in a vacuum, that is what it is. I wouldn't say that. Bias death become THE cautionary tale for athletes with aspirations for living fast and making it big. That's a pretty big impact, and one he only achieved through death. Bias death and the events surrounding it were the harbinger for how the media would report and how society would reflect upon the shortcomings of our athletes. posted by lilnemo Lilnemo nails it better than I have, so I'll I'll just end with that quote and quit defending the story. edit: The story and article tries to explain the impact of bias death on sports (U.S. sports) due to the circumstances and timing. I think that's being ignored by taking a few lines of the article and running with it.
posted by justgary at 06:56 PM on June 27
The death of Len Bias was very unfortunate. It was in no way a tragedy like portrayed in the story. Kudos to Len Bias' mother for helping a new generation. If I was a Celtic fan, or I would be pissed at his choices, instead of trying to sugarcoat it. The impact of his death didn't change the outlook of sports. Plenty more athletes have died of drugs and similar circumstances, they were just not number one draft picks. I would think a Josh Hamilton story would be a better example of trying to change things for the positive of sports.
posted by MMAFighter/Coach at 12:36 AM on June 28
I'm assuming, and I could be wrong, that we're not really reading the article (and it's long) but jumping at a few lines and the general thought that the author is lamenting the death of someone that brought it on himself. I did read the entire article. Twice. The event, the timing of the event, is important, so maybe someone who wasn't there, or didn't care, looks at it as just a story about another athlete throwing it all away, and in a vacuum, that is what it is. The unnecessary death of any young person is unfortunate. To say that Len Bias' death is more important than any other is galling and insulting to any family who has lost someone to drugs. I am a basketball fan, and I was 24 when Len Bias killed himself. I can remember my reaction clearly. What an idiot. That is what it is. His death was not a turning point in history. The youth of America did not put down their crack pipes and their rolled up $100 bills and proclaim that drugs are bad because Len Bias killed himself. According to what I read in the newpapers and see on television, cocaine and crack are more popular now than they were 20 years ago as street drugs of choice. I wish his mother all the best, and if she can convince one young person not to start down the path that her son chose to take, then that's great. Let's just keep things in perspective here. A 22 year old man killed himself abusing cocaine. To make him some sort of a mythic tragic figure is laughable.
posted by tommytrump at 11:32 AM on June 28
The author made a pretty big qualifier before making the hyperbolic comparisons which seem to have enlisted such RAGE, from our fellow members.
If you were alive then, and you cared at all about sports, or about drugs, you most likely remember it well. It was one of those moments
posted by lilnemo at 11:43 AM on June 28
The author made a pretty big qualifier before making the hyperbolic comparisons which seem to have enlisted such RAGE, from our fellow members. RAGE ? Where? If you were alive then, and you cared at all about sports, or about drugs, you most likely remember it well. It was one of those moments. If you're going to pull a quote from the article, at least pull the entire sentence. -- like JFK, like Martin Luther King Jr., like the space shuttle Challenger earlier that same year -- when we, as a society, stopped and stared collectively into the void and declared that human existence was entirely unjust. You really think anyone besides a Celtics or University of Maryland fan, or a member of his family or close friend really took the time to stop and stare collectively into the void and declare that human existence is entirely unjust because some fool snorted enough cocaine up his nose or smoked enough crack to kill himself? As John McEnroe would say: "You cannot be serious." We can argue what impact Bias death had on sports and society til were blue in the face, but your reaction is just that. Your reaction. Same with mine. But the fact that we are discussing the event 20 years after; that it is apparently still such a touchy subject; and that it touched more lives than the fanbase of the New England area should give credence to the notion that Bias death affected people other than you in a significant way. Surely we can agree on that? I don't find the situation touchy, moreso absurd, with a pinch of amusement and bemusement and a sprinkle of pity.
posted by tommytrump at 01:14 PM on June 28
If you're going to pull a quote from the article, at least pull the entire sentence. Why should I if you didn't in your initial comment? Look I'm not trying to convince you that Lenny Bias was the second coming. He wasn't. I get it. A journo starts writing all purple and the article goes south. Fine. If you don't want to discuss whether Bias had an impact or what that might have been. Fine. I'm not going to get into a semantic pissing match. We just agree to disagree.
posted by lilnemo at 04:01 PM on June 28
If you're going to pull a quote from the article, at least pull the entire sentence. Why should I if you didn't in your initial comment? Not only did I pull the entire sentence, I used the entire paragraph. If you don't want to discuss whether Bias had an impact or what that might have been. Fine. I'll discuss it now. He is a draft pick that didn't pan out. That happens all the time. Why is Len Bias special as opposed to all the other draft picks that didn't work out? He's not. Because he was selfish and made poor choices? A good example for children not to emulate. Because he thought it was more important to get high than to prepare for what may have been a long and successful career in the N.B.A.? And this makes him special how? Should I be discussing how Len Bias' death affected drug use on college campuses? Not at all, if media reports are even close to accurate. What effect did his death have for anyone not related to him or emotionally connected to him through their fandom of one of his teams? I don't think it does affect us. It's a shame that a young man with the basketball world as his feet blew it like he did, but people die from drug abuse every day.
posted by tommytrump at 05:57 PM on June 28
What effect did his death have for anyone not related to him or emotionally connected to him through their fandom of one of his teams? The article answers that multiple times, but you read it, so I won't bother to pull quotes. To make him some sort of a mythic tragic figure is laughable. The idea that the author is trying to turn the Bias into a mythical tragic figure is laughable. He's examining a big story 20 years later and asking questions, looking at it from different sides. I quoted this earlier: I do not know whether Len Bias died for any reason at all, divine or otherwise, beyond the fact he ingested a massive amount of dangerously pure cocaine in a brief period of time, short-circuiting the electrical impulses to his heart muscle. Your argument isn't valid because you're arguing against something that doesn't exist. Shorter tommytrump: Bias was a loser like a thousand other losers who threw it all away. And that's fine. A lot of people feel that way. We have one member here who only comes out during these type links to condemn the person involved (I'm shocked he hasn't shown up). But then why not say that and move on? You're arguing that this isn't worth discussing. I say it most definitely is. It was different, for many reasons, none of which have to do with Bias being a great guy. But I won't try to change your mind. I respect that you think he was just another drug user that threw it all away. For you it meant nothing. For me it did, and the fact that it's still being brought up, that people still remember where they were, shows that it meant something for others as well. It's a shame that a young man with the basketball world as his feet blew it like he did, but people die from drug abuse every day. The story is a part of history that is still being discussed 20 years later. That alone makes it different than people who die from drugs every day. It doesn't make Bias any different, or better, something the article never claims. We're not discussing anything from the article. We're arguing the validity of the article. This is a disappointing discussion for me that isn't getting anywhere, so I'll shut up now.
posted by justgary at 10:21 PM on June 28
Thanks for posting this. People are making too much of one overwrought sentence in an otherwise great story. Len Bias' death was one of the biggest sports stories of the '80s. To go from the heights of the NBA draft to the morgue in two days, simply because you made the same mistake as thousands of other people and used cocaine, is fate at its most cruel. Bias death become THE cautionary tale for athletes with aspirations for living fast and making it big. Bias had to be a cautionary tale for countless young people who might've otherwise tried cocaine. The story that he died using it for the first time -- which as the article suggests may be false -- was widely circulated. It's terrible that the Bias family lost two sons so young. I wasn't aware of the Jay Bias shooting before reading this.
posted by rcade at 11:27 AM on June 29
I remember thinking, when I heard the news, "How tragic, getting signed by the Celtics, partying to celebrate and end up dying from an overdose." Then as more info came out (I head the crack story too, and believed it) it was "No way am I ever gonna do crack!" So, tommytrump, Len"s death kept me from doing something bad. (backstory: I was single, had a great job $$$ and was a party hardy gal who would try anything at least once. Did coke a few times and realized how easily a person could become addicted. But the allure was always there.) To this day, I bring up his name when talking to my son about drug use. While the article is a bit over the top, I think his death brought to the forfront the wide spread use of crack (even if this isn't what he was doing) at least in my neck of the woods. More importantly, the article shows how a mother who has buried two of her children (I didn't know about Jay either, rcade.) has drawn strenght from her tragedy and turned it into something positive. That in its self it pretty amazing. I don't know if I could do it.
posted by steelergirl at 11:56 AM on June 29
Fate? I think you mean stupidity. As to it having to be a cautionary tale, I'd like to see some evidence of that. Did cocaine use suddenly drop after his death? I agree that we have started discussing the validity of the article, rather than the article itself so I'm just going to leave it and shut up as well.
posted by tommytrump at 12:07 PM on June 29
Say it ain't so Joe?, Munich, Innocence Died long before Len Bias a rather narrow perspective on the world of sports Michael. There was a world before YOU entered it.
posted by thatch at 12:53 PM on June 29
Fate? I think you mean stupidity. I think we're all clear on the fact that you think Bias had it coming to him, but stupidity isn't enough to explain his death. People do stupid things all the time and survive them. Particularly young people. I'd venture a guess that some people in this discussion made the same exact mistake Bias did. Or others that could have, in another twist of fate, had lethal consequences.
posted by rcade at 05:55 PM on June 29
I was living in the dorm building next door to Len when he died. I have no clue how it resonated outside of the College Park area, but in Maryland it was very much like a national disaster. The school was shocked. People made t-shirts that read things like "Lefty made me clean my room" (a reference to Lefty asking other players to clean Len's room before police had a chance) and other t-shirts with Testudo (our fear-inducing turtle mascot) holding a bong and pissing in a cup. Everyone had their own way of dealing with the strange loss. Lefty's head was being called for and even the president of the university was under fire. As a young student who was already part of the fraternity system I saw that cocaine use dropped significantly... at least for the fall semester. Strange days.
posted by scully at 07:36 AM on June 30
He is a draft pick that didn't pan out. That happens all the time. I'll admit to being 11 or so at the time, but I can't see this being another draft pick that didn't pan out. I appreciate your interest in tying everything into a neatly unnuanced morality play, but this was a bit more than a guy who played for a few years and didn't live up to his billing. This was a coronation with an assassination, from the perspective of Celtics fans. One of the best basketball teams of all time had just finished off a championship series and somehow Red had landed us the guy that would keep the Celtics on top of the NBA for the next ten years. Instead Bias dropped dead, Walton's injuries caught up with him, Kevin's ankles went, Larry's back, Reggie Lewis died and we wound up with Tommy Heinson forced to pretend Rick Fox was an All-Star. And then the rise and crash of the Pitino Administration was like an aftershock: an uptick of excitement for the return of Pitino, Tim Duncan plus another top 10 pick and instead we got a win against the Bulls and not much else.
posted by yerfatma at 02:23 PM on June 30
I remember this story even though I have never been a basketball fan. The impact of his story is not that he died but the results of his death (the war on drugs -- stricter laws and enforcement). Because his death brought drug use to the public's attention, Congress reacted and hurriedly passed laws that met the public's demands but were they really the right laws with the right consequences?
posted by Monica Poland at 10:56 AM on July 01
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