Len Bias remains one of the most famous, iconic and somewhat-oddly lionized sports figures in sports history. Maryland -- as a state -- remains immensely proud of Bias. In the near-three decades since his death, he's certainly become mythical.
He was one of the best college players of all time, a guy many thought could've truly been the closest thing to Michael Jordan's equal the game's ever seen. But his death-by-cocaine-overdose that came two days after he was drafted out of Maryland by the Boston Celtics in 1986 has permanently put a cloud of darkness, lament and equivocation around the man's legacy.
Some have long wanted Maryland to pay tribute to its greatest player by erecting a statue. There were plans in place to do that at Bias' former high school, but no longer. From The Washington Post:
A controversial request for state money to erect a statue of late basketball star Len Bias at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville will be withdrawn because of concerns about the message the honor would send to students. ...
State Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly said he decided to pull a $50,000 bond bill he submitted that would cover the costs of creating the statue after concerns were raised about hailing the athlete as a positive role model. Ramirez said he will try to bring the measure back next year.
“I am going to pull it and bring everyone to the table to make sure everyone is comfortable,” Ramirez said. “That is sometimes reality for issues such as this.”
Both Ramirez and Bias attended the Hyattsville school.
“I think it was a tragedy, but you can't allow that one night to take away from who he was, what he stood for," Ramirez said. "I think he stood for giving people hope and giving kids who grew up in the neighborhood just like his hope that education, the University of Maryland — that college was possible.”
Principal Edgar Batenga declined to give his opinion on the statue but noted that other graduates of the school have been honored. In 2002, the arts wing of the school was named after Jim Henson, a 1954 Northwestern graduate and the creator of the Muppets.
“I think if it is something the community would support and the school system supports, I don't think my opinion should stop that,” Batenga said.
Does a life-ending bad decision mean a man can't be honored in one of the most permanent ways? That's an interesting call. I'm not sure, really. The message it sends is a bit mixed, and I can understand why you wouldn't want to put that at a high school of all places, even if it is Bias's alma mater.
The University of Maryland has no such statue, and though it boasts its Bias history, nothing like this has ever seriously been brought to the table, as far as I know. There can be alternatives, too. A simple-but-proud plaque to pay tribute to Bias might get the message across and be a tasteful way to honor the man at Hyattsville High.
Or use the $50,000 that was proposed to build the statue and put it toward something better, like improving the school's athletic programs and ensuring no teams of any sport face being cut, a common problem across our nation's high schools. If money isn't a problem now, that doesn't mean it won't be in five or 10 years. Create a fund to keep the school's sports programs in the black. Do it in Bias's name while you're at it. Hard to go wrong there.
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