Remembering Len Bias on His Birthday

Blair’s office manager Artie Sparrow remembers one of his favorite moments in ACC basketball history.

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lenbiascelticsLen Bias was born 50 years ago today. One of the great sports tragedies of our time is that he didn’t live to see his 23rd birthday. Today, I’m thinking back to one of the most important nights in his too-brief career.

I attended UNC in the mid-1980s. Although I had a great time there, I have a few regrets: being too shy to ask Laurie Dhue for a date, missing concerts by the Talking Heads and Stevie Ray Vaughan, leaving Cat’s Cradle about 20 minutes before Michael Stipe sang a few songs with a local band. Close to the top of my list is the night I didn’t bother walking across the parking lot to see one of the greatest performances in ACC basketball history: the game Len Bias almost single-handedly wrecked the Tar Heels’ perfect record in the Dean Dome.

I don’t remember why I didn’t go to that game in February of my freshman year. I suspect it had to do with how students got tickets back then. We had to camp out and then get tickets in a random section, usually in the upper deck. I could enjoy a better view watching games on TV and spare myself having to sleep outside on cold winter nights. Also, the 1986 Tar Heel team wasn’t particularly entertaining. It won a lot but was rather predictable about it.


I watched the game on TV with my suitemates. Carolina was cruising to another win when Len Bias changed the script. He kept Maryland in the game until overtime, and then it happened: a steal, a reverse dunk, a block. He basically imposed his will on the game and refused to let Maryland lose. It was the sort of thing Michael Jordan was famous for—which was why his poster was in half the dorm rooms on campus at the time. Twenty-seven years later, fans still remember Bias’s performance—even fans who can’t remember what they did last week. After the game, we were stunned. Bias had instantly gone from being a really good player to, well, the best basketball player on the planet at that moment.

ACCBasketballBookFameI really enjoyed reading about Bias and all the other ACC greats and learning tidbits about what they were like off the court, but I don’t rank players based on their cumulative achievements. I guess that’s my one quibble with Dan Collins’s highly entertaining ACC Basketball Book of Fame. To me, the beauty of basketball is its moments of greatness. Bias had the most memorable moment of all the basketball I’ve watched over the years, even if it came at the expense of my school.

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Have your own opinions about ACC’s best players or the way Dan Collins’ ranks them in his Basketball Book of Fame? Collins wants to hear about it! Let the discussion begin.

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