30 Years After Basketball Star Len Bias' Death, Its Drug War Impact Endures | NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
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30 Years After Basketball Star Len Bias' Death, Its Drug War Impact Endures

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP/FILE
    In this file photo, Len Bias wears a Boston Celtics hat after being selected as the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft in New York, June 17, 1986. Two days later, on June 19, Bias died of a cocaine overdose in a Maryland dormitory room during a party to celebrate his success. Bias' death changed the way the nation perceived cocaine, shattered the Celtics' dream of remaining among the NBA's elite and sent the Maryland athletic program into a tailspin that lasted nearly a decade. When he completed his extraordinary basketball career at the University of Maryland, the only question surrounding Len Bias was whether he would dominate the NBA in the same fashion he ruled the Atlantic Coast Conference. Twenty years later, many still wonder.

    Basketball star Len Bias' 1986 cocaine overdose sparked a panic, stoked by false rumors and a high-stakes political campaign that culminated in a law that swept thousands of low-level drug offenders — most of them young and black — into prison.

    The All-American forward at the University of Maryland, died on June 19, two days after being drafted by the NBA champion Boston Celtics.

    Lynne Sladky/AP

    The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 established mandatory minimum drug sentences, provisions that exacerbated racial disparities, led to an explosion in prison populations and helped lay the groundwork for grievances that erupted in anti-police riots in Baltimore last year and in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

    Thirty years later, on the anniversary of Bias' death, America is still reeling from the impact.