Why Won't Maryland Honor Len Bias?

Neither Len Bias nor Jeff Baxter are in the University of Maryland’s Athletics Hall of Fame. But if you ask Baxter, one of them belongs there.

And it’s not him.

Baxter and Bias were All-Met high school players their senior seasons in 1982, Baxter at Archbishop Carroll High School and Bias at Northwestern High School. Both players entered Maryland with lofty aspirations, and they were roommates throughout college.

Bias, considered as good as the one-year-older Michael Jordan, infamously died of complications of cocaine intoxication two days after the Boston Celtics selected him No. 2 in the 1986 NBA draft. Baxter did not start a game for Maryland until his senior season, and he claims the fallout from Bias’ death made him an “unapproachable commodity” for the NBA. He never played pro ball.

Baxter understands why he never made the hall of fame: Unlike Bias, he was never a college All-American, not even all-conference. But he thinks Bias should be in.

“I’ve always been totally against drugs,” says Baxter, who grew up near the Southwest waterfront, attended St. Peter School, and learned his game at Turkey Thicket Park and Candy Cane Park. “But Lenny’s [death] was accidental. And everyone has made a mistake in life. He should be in the Hall of Fame based on his body of work and as a person.”

The controversy surrounding Bias’ death has kept him out of the hall of fame, which honored its 2012 inductees at a dinner on Oct. 5. For the 16th consecutive year since he’s been eligible, Bias didn’t make the cut.

The hall of fame’s selection committee has used one of its bylaws to exclude Bias: “Nominees must have good character and reputation, and not have been a source of embarrassment in any way to the University.”

Each year, the committee starts with about 15 candidates for inclusion. Those who receive the most votes make it; the others don’t. Usually, only six get in, but this year, seven were chosen, because the school was switching from inducting a group every year to one every two years. Bias has been eligible since 1996, and gets at least some votes every year. Now, arguably the greatest basketball player in the University of Maryland’s history will remain shut out until at least 2014.

There’s little debate that the death of Bias crippled College Park more profoundly than any other athletic event in Maryland’s history. Athletic Director Dick Dull, men’s head coach Lefty Driesell, and head football coach Bobby Ross all departed within six months. Actions by Bob Wade, Driesell’s successor, placed an already dispirited program on probation. Due to a loss of revenue in the years after Bias’ death, Maryland athletics was restructured, and dozens of employees lost their jobs. Some teams operated with no scholarships for four years.

For years, there’s been a rift about Bias within the selection committee. The committee has 13 members, most chosen by the athletic department and the M-Club of former athletes. Several members, including former wrestler Steve Hayleck and former three-sport athlete Laura LeMire, say some “old guard” members are reluctant to support Bias’ selection, while younger, more recent additions to the committee support him.

Hayleck, who stepped down from the committee this year after serving since 2005, calls Bias “the 600-pound gorilla in the room.” He says the committee discussed Bias for about an hour while debating selections this year. He supports letting Bias in.

“Some on the committee say that if we put Len in the hall of fame, some athletes might not come to Maryland,” Hayleck says. “But I feel there’s a wonderful lesson for current athletes. They think they are immortal at that age, and they are not.”

Older members include All-American quarterback Jack Scarbath from the early 1950s, All-Southern Conference baseball and basketball player Jack Flynn from the late 1940s, and Jack Zane, a Maryland athletic department employee since the early 1960s. None have publicly expressed their opinions about Bias’ selection, but Zane’s reaction when I called him in 2010 to discuss Bias for a recent book was telling. I’ve known Zane since I ran track and played soccer at Maryland in the late 1970s, and I respect him immensely. He wrote the foreword for my second book on Maryland athletics, Legends of Maryland Basketball. But when I spoke with him, he vehemently questioned why I wanted to get people talking about Bias’ death again.

LeMire, who was inducted into the hall of fame in 2004, has been a member of the committee for about five years. She recalls discussions about how Bias’ selection would tarnish the image of others in Maryland’s athletic hall of fame and reflect badly on the university. LeMire compares a Bias selection to Babe Ruth being inducted into the baseball hall of fame. Ruth was known for his boorish and abusive behavior off the field, but he made it to Cooperstown on the strength of his playing feats.

“Should we really be paying tribute and honor to someone of [Ruth’s] character?” she says. “With Bias, some are looking at after his death. You have to look at his career and what he accomplished. It’s a shame he made such a bad decision.”

Could the committee eventually come around on Bias? Jerry Bechtle, who played basketball at Maryland in the late 1950s and early 1960s, thinks Bias will make it, someday.

“It would not surprise me that sooner or later he will get in there,” says Bechtle, a member of the selection committee. “There are enough people talking about it. Len is a good example of why some kids now are not using drugs.”

But the best chance Bias had may have already come and gone. In 2002, the university won its first men’s national basketball championship, marking an end to the program’s recovery from Bias’ death. That same year, Driesell was inducted to the hall of fame. Bias was still left out.

Bias remains Maryland’s only two-time ACC Player of the Year and was a two-time All-American. He was Maryland’s all-time leading scorer for 16 years and now ranks second, behind only Juan Dixon (who was selected for the hall this year, his first year of eligibility). Dixon recently tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs as a pro in Europe. If that didn’t disqualify him, why should Bias’ death keep him out? No other Maryland player since he died has matched his combination of athleticism, intensity and skill.

Last March, Bias was inducted into the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Basketball Hall of Fame, his first such selection. No one would accept the award on his behalf. Family members, friends and teammates all refused to come forward.

The image of every inductee was displayed on a placard during the ceremony. Someone removed the photo of Bias as a souvenir without permission, and it was later returned to event organizers upon request. Honoring Len Bias, unfortunately, still requires unconventional methods.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, this story originally incorrectly stated that Jeff Baxter had gone to St. John’s College High School.

Our Readers Say

Lenny paid for his mistake with his life...that's punishment enough
Baxter played high school basketball at Archbishop Carroll not St John's.
Baxter played and homed his skills at various Boys Clubs and gyms throughout the City as well as at Ft. Mcnair Army Base in Southwest D.C. Turkey Thicket and Candy Cane playground was more of a pass thru court for him.
Your print edition also includes several errors, 1 being that you have Bias listed as having scored only 838 points in his career @ UMD; but I know both he and Juan Dixon (who you also have in the 800s) scored well over 2000 points. If you go to the UMD website they have Bias listed as having 838 career field goals.

Thanks for the awesome memories, Len, & the tremendous games! This coming from a Wolfpack alum & fan.
I don't think this is difficult at all. The rule is: "The Nominees must have good character and reputation, and not have been a source of embarrassment in any way to the University.”

Change the rule otherwise he should not be allowed in....pretty
simple. :)
I played with and was a roommate of Len and Jeff. When you talk about character of a person, no one who is either writing about him or reading about him knew his "character". You sit and make observations, but none of you ever met the man, lived with the man, or even played with the man. Len's "character" is or should never be examined, because he was one of the most giving and caring people that you would ever want to meet. So, please don't give me rhetoric about his "character". Len is not an embarrassment to the University of Maryland. Len did more in death, because his death woke the nation and the world up to the issues of drugs. I know many people who stopped using drugs because of his tragedy. If Juan Dixon had be died from his incident in Europe, would the committee respond by taking away his Hall of Fame and should they took it away now, knowing that he has caused embarrassment to others. Should he come forward and say that he doesn't deserve the Hall of Fame? Len Biss is in my Hall of Fame whether Maryland honors him or not. I know the person he was and its not the person that everyone is trying to paint a picture. Here we are 20 years later, still debating the obvious and that he is and forever will be "The Greatest" mens basketball player in Terp history.
Its a shame that Bias, Branch and Manning jerseys not hanging in the rafters, it's time to let bygones be just that...the powers that be cannot still be making decisions on this matter...if you look @ the mural by the bball office you have over a 100 players and Adrian Branch is not one of them...
I think it is a shame that Lenny is not in the UMD Hall of Fame and his jersey has not been retired. If it wasn't for him I don't think the school would have gotten all the attention in basketball that they did. I remember the games being sold out because everyone wanted to see him play. I believe alot of kids chose this school because of the great Len Bias. Since the school refuses to allow him in the Hall of Fame and not retire his jersey, several family members and friends refuse to support any of the basketball games at the school. Lenny clearly put this school on the map with the basketball program.
I would like to be a fly on the wall in the homes of some of these self righteous individuals on the board. When he was running up and down the court and selling out the Cole Field House it wasn’t a problem. Ask the people who really knew him about his character because obviously you guys didn’t. The man made a bad decision which has absolutely nothing to do with his character. I guess the board is full of folks who’ve never ever made a bad decision or done something they regret! He without sin cast the first stone!
If I am not mistaken, Bias' jersey number does hang from the rafters at the Comcast Center. Maryland as a rule does not "retire" jersey numbers, but rather just honors them with banners.

In any case, Bias should be in the Hall of Fame. If Mike Miller, the President of the Maryland State Senate, can be in the Hall of Fame, then I think they can find a spot for the greatest basketball player in school history.
So mdjohn, how did Juan Dixon get in this year? He tested positive for drugs while in the NBA. Oh, that's right he lived.
Getting tired of people who think they are better than everybody else. The President of the US admitted he smoked weed. Bias didnt know that what he had was pure cocaine. This could have happened to any casual user which he was at the time. Of course you should NEVER do any drugs and I have never done ANY, but in the Mid 80s it was just like alcohol no big deal. This manchild was one of the greatest to come out of the Maryland/DC/VA area at that time and everybody who I talk to know that it would have been he and Jordan going at it for years. How can u try and hide his accomplishments at Maryland with all that he single handedly did. All you old skool people who dont vote for him KILL YOURSELF because thats what you deserve because you just want to remain quiet and not disturb the NORMAL!! LEN YOU WERE, ARE, AND IS THE BEST PLAYER IN MARYLAND BASKETBALL HISTORY AND THE REST OF YALL CAN KISS MY BLACK ASS!!!! 34, the best to ever do it!!!
I'm only gonna say this once, because it hurts to repeat it: Lenny Bias would've went on to become the greatest NBA player the world has ever seen. Trust that!
It's a travesty that he's not in the HOF - he's definitely the best player to ever wear a UMD jersey and would've been one of the best in the league, racking up ring after ring. Time to start a petition.
This is such a travesty, it seems as if the powers that be want to continue to punish Len even in death. May God rest his soul, he was only a 20 yr old kid. Everyone's made mistakes in life, especially as young adults. He's paid the ultimate price for taking that fatal dose of coke over 20yrs ago. Let he who is w/o sin cast the first stone. Whenever , of I think of UMD, he comes to mind. Of course many people were affected by his tragic & untimely death, however his family suffered the most & he lost his life. I would think that's more than enough "punishment" for him if you will. Weell Len rest in peace knowing you are/were the best in basketball that Maryland has to offer. Your record continues to speak for itself long after you left.
who cares about the maryland hall of fame? the school is a joke.
I think Len Bias should be honored in every single way. A player that is regarded as good as Jordan, if not better, deserves all kind of recognition. His death is the biggest tragedy in sporting history in my opinion and what he couldve done is unimaginable. His death was accidental and a mistake. All hail Len Bias!
Lenny was a nice guy. Lenny was, like a lot of other people involved in casual drug use - if you could afford it that is - except he over did it and died. That young man wanted the NBA more than anything else in the world...except to be noticed. He loved fame, he loved people, he loved being loved. I went to high school with him. I used to watch him sitting in the "big gym" in the coaches office, practicing his autograph. He was a good kid, a kind kid and never had a pencil in biology - nor could he pronounce pencil correctly...he'd ask very nicely so the teacher couldn't hear (cause he knew she'd light into him....for being unprepared for class) ..."Psst, hey, shor-tay...can I borrow a prencil..."...my reply "when you can say pencil I'll give you one...." it was a joke...I always gave him that big lovable goon a pencil and he was always thankful and gracious. I am 47 years old now, class of 1983...I'll never forget that last shot in 1982 at the State Championship when Vernon Butler pulled a miracle for High Point...I'll never forget how the Yearbook staff at Northwestern selected "songs" representative of each of the classes in 1982....and used songs to highlight people...the song chosen for Len? Shooting Star by Bad Company/Paul Rogers....the song about the self made musician, a kid who leaves his mom to be a rock star and dies of an overdose while he was cresting his wave to fame. So incredibly sad. Len wasn't a thug, a gangsta, he was just a goofy sweet boy who loved the game..and the game loved him.....and so did we. RIP Lenny, RIP. Damned cocaine, damned teen/young adult invincibility... Len needs to be praised but in the proper perspectives. I believe MD U can honor him, his talent, his drive AND protect future generations from illicit drug use ~ find the cost of freedom (of choice) buried in the ground... (ala Crosby, Stills Nash and Young)...

I was 16 years old when Len Bias died, and I remember the day like it just happened. I like many other kids, looked up to him as "the best player in college" and when we played basketball in SE DC on Kramer courts whenever I made a shot I would say "that shot looked like Bias boy". When died on June 16th, I cried like he was a close friend or family member, and even though I never had the pleasure of meeting him, he was just that. I have 2 of his high school jerseys and when I wear one, I feel like I am keeping his memory alive. RIP to the GREATEST BASKETBALL PLAYER (to never make it to the league)and who without a doubt more than deserves to be in the U MD HOF Len "Frosty" Bias.....I'm getting the jersey framed both of them

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