“In my time at Duke, there have been two defining players from the ACC for me: Michael Jordan and Len Bias.” Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
THAT’s how good Len Bias was. Bias was an all-american at the University of Maryland when he was drafted #2 overall by the Boston Celtics. The Celtics had won the title the year before, and with this new pick, the future was as bright as could be for Boston and their latest star. Then, just two days later, the world was shocked to hear that Bias had died from a heart attack suffered as a result of cocaine intoxication. Just like that, a bright young star was gone, and the world was introduced to the dangers of cocaine use in the 80′s. This, is Without Bias.
The movie opens with the haunting real life 9-1-1 phone call made the night of Bias’s death. According to accounts from people who were there, Bias and a few friends were celebrating Bias’s draft by drinking liquor and abusing cocaine. At some point, Bias began to have seizures, and the situation turned dire quickly. An ambulance arrived, and took Bias to the local hospital, where he was kept alive on a respirator. Eventually, Bias was taken off life support.
Without Bias does a great job of setting up the night, by first setting up the main character in it: Len Bias himself. Countless interviewees rattle off all of the great qualities of Bias: not only his incredible on court talent, but for his easy going and loving personalty off the court. As the timeline goes on, the story shifts to Bias being drafted by the Celtics, and the two days after, which would turn out to be the last two of his life.
One of the most chilling parts of the movie occurs when Bias’s father is being interviewed. He describes vividly remembering the night before his son’s death, saying that he felt very nervous for some reason. All he could think was, “you’d better pray”, and said he could not sleep at all that night, having a feeling the whole time that something bad would happen.
The movie then shifts to the night that Bias died, with more accounts of the people who were there for the event. After that, the story shifts to the fall out that occured after the death. Jeff Tribble, Bias’s teammate who allegedly provided the cocaine that killed Bias, was arrested for cocaine possession. Lefty Driesell, head coach of the Maryland basketball team, resigned amongst speculation that he knew about one of his players having a drug problem, but did nothing about it. Confusion and despair surrounded the team and the school, as a huge black eye was dealt to the program.
The death of Bias also revolutionized the way that the American society and government looked at drugs like cocaine. They passed a drug act in 1986 that sought to cut down the selling of crack cocaine on the streets, which widely affected much of Baltimore and Washington DC, where drugs were running rampant. The death of Bias was now seen less as a tragedy of what could have been, and more so as an essential speaking point in the war on drugs.
Innocence was taking away that day. Len Bias’s million dollar smile was vanquished, and the sports world was left shaken. Jay Bilas said that much of his generation treated the death of Bias in a similar light as the death of JFK shaped the generation before his. The movie wraps up by shedding light on another tragedy: the murder of Len’s brother Jay in 1990. After talking with a female clerk at a jewelry store in a mall, Jay was met by the clerk’s jealous husband in the parking lot. Bias was shot twice, and died shortly after, a cruel ending to a nightmare time for the parents of Jay and Len.
Without Bias does a fantastic job of shaping this tragic event, and capturing what it meant to society at the time, and what it still means to the world of sports today. An incredible talent was lost to the world, while also opening the eyes of millions across the nation to the dangers of drugs like cocaine.
We give Without Bias 4.5 out of 5 stars for telling this story in an enthralling, educational, and tragic way.