Last week we had the passing of several celebrities and well known personalities. The celebrities had different levels of notoriety but all of them were sad and some even tragic. It started with the super sidekick of late night host Johnny Carson with the passing of Ed McMahon. Then it was legendary high school football coach Ed Thomas. Next was 70’s bombshell and Angel Farrah Fawcett, soon followed by the King of Pop Michael Jackson. Finally sensational pitchman Billy Mays passed away. From neighborhoods to around the globe, people mourned the loss of these great people. People connected with them, grew up with them, and were entertained or inspired by them. This got me to thinking about some of the poignant deaths in the sporting world and how we live and die with our teams as sports fans. We connect with our teams and the players that represent our loyalty, pride and passion. Any sports fan would surely be able to tell you about an athlete that passed away that affected them on one level or another. I remember the athlete that died and left me in shock, upset, and wondering how it could have happened.
For me that athlete is Len Bias. The story of Len Bias has been told more than once but for those of you that are not familiar with it, here it is in a nutshell. Len Bias was a very talented basketball player that had mind blowing numbers and the potential to be one of the best ever. He had inked a deal with Reebok around the same time Michael Jordan signed with Nike. He was so good that plenty of people thought he would be better than Michael Jordan. Len Bias was drafted 2nd in the 1986 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. Less than 48 hours later Len Bias was dead. The cause of death was listed as cocaine intoxication. This story is tragic on every level, young man, young talent, and young hopes. I never met Len Bias but when word spread of his death it hit me straight in the gut, like I had known him my entire life. As a young Celtic fan I knew all about Len Bias. He was dubbed the heir apparent to Larry Bird and was touted as the player to keep the Celtics on top of the NBA world. Of course he never played a game in a Celtic uniform and to this day Celtic fans still wonder what might have been. Ironically Len Bias passed away on June 19th 2006, 23 years and ten days ago yet his memory lives on. As a sports fan it’s easy to forget about the “real world” and the tragedies that occur but every now and then we are reminded just how real this world can get.