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Posted under: Culture Opinion

On Len Bias and the dynasty of cocaine

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I'm not sure when I first heard or read about Len Bias, but I know that his name was often mentioned in the same breath or on the same page as Michael Jordan. He was supposed to join Larry Bird and help the defending champion Boston Celtics add to their already jaw-dropping legacy.

Unfortunately, reality has its lips sealed as to Bias’ potential basketball rivalries because the dynasty of cocaine dramatically altered the way that we remember NBA last names.

On his back, Bias carried into the mainstream the dangers of a plague that can make people flirt with their final four hours even before they ever reach their sweet sixteens.

Sadly, Bias lost his battle with the primary opponent of his greatness, and he was unable to treat his biography as a living, breathing document which he could personally adapt to his evolution as a player and a man. Thus, as is the case with many individuals who died too soon, the story of Len Bias is full of hypotheticals.

Because Bias would have been in his prime in 1992, basketball fans may wonder what it would have looked like if Larry Bird had given Bias an alley-oop pass on a Dream Team fast break during the Summer Olympics that year. Because Bias was going to endorse Reebok, economists may wonder how much wealth Bias could have accumulated if he had became an iconic brand like Air Jordan. Because Bias was from Prince George’s County, Maryland like myself, I specifically wonder what type of impact Bias might have had if he had decided to spearhead an initiative similar to the LeBron James Family Foundation-University of Akron partnership and thereby helped thousands of local low-income students attend the University of Maryland, College Park. Additionally, because Bias was unable to survive his drug use, some might also wonder what types of drug policies a sober Bias might have advocated for in hindsight.

Looking back at what actually took place, the absence of Bias’s voice was translated into a harsh law that has wrecked havoc on people in the D.C. area, which Bias called home, and myriad other communities throughout the nation. Bias’s death was used as fuel for the passage of the federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, a.k.a. 'The Len Bias Law.' Thus, instead of trying to address the poverty that leads many human beings to deal drugs as a source of income and/or use drugs as a means of coping with pain, mandatory minimum sentences were used as decade-seeking missiles in the war on drugs.

Essentially throwing people away, especially people of color, does little to defeat the drugs that can rob NBA teams of their stars, parents of their sons, and human beings of their own dreams. This seems especially clear in light of the questionable motivations of the war on drugs and the more compassionate, treatment-driven response to the current heroin epidemic.

If we really want to honor Len Bias, the man who was never able to take a walk in his own shoes because of drugs, then perhaps we should address the crippling lack of opportunities that props up much of the drug trade in the first place.


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Victor A. Kwansa, Esq. is an attorney, educational advocate, poet, and commentator from Prince George’s County, Maryland. He received a B.A. in Political Science from Yale University in 2008, and he graduated from Harvard Law School in 2011. He has performed at universities, K-12 schools, community centers, and even once while visiting a former slave camp in Ghana, his parents’ home country. Victor’s website features his poetry and education-related commentary.