Through the lengthy and dynamic history of the NBA, there have been numerous “what-if” moments that could have dramatically changed the course and look of the NBA as we know it. Some love to dwell on those hypotheticals and imagine how different things could have played out, while others prefer living in reality and hate the assumptions of people speculating how history would be different because of a specific event. It indeed raises many questions and stirs up debates.
One of the biggest “what-if” stories in basketball history is most definitely the career of Len Bias. Even though he never stepped foot on an NBA court, Bias’s name is immortalized in the mind of every true basketball fan. The Maryland alumni spent four years there and built an impressive legacy as one of the best college players in history. 2x ACC player of the year with numerous accolades to his name before he even got drafted made the whole basketball world certain Bias will be the next big thing.
Bias had a playstyle and skillset so unique that it is hard to compare to anybody playing today. A 6’8” forward that could play inside and out with his impeccable combination of athleticism and touch from the midrange, making him virtually unstoppable to stop. The Celtics recognized the potential and took him with the second pick in the 1986 Draft, adding a young stud to their veteran superteam that was already dominating the NBA through the whole decade.
But as destiny would have, it wasn’t meant to be, as the next day, Bias passed away from cardiac arrhythmia due to usage of cocaine. A tragic turn of events shocked the whole world and ended a young life and potential legacy in the making for Len Bias. His talent and impact were so immense that Bias’s NBA career is talked about to this day, even though he never played in a single professional game.
Having built a rivalry with the consensus GOAT Michael Jordan in the 80’s only added fuel to the fire of the debate if the Bias could have been the one to top MJ. The two met during elite basketball camps in high school and even faced each other on the college level, as their friendship/rivalry was set to go to the next level on an NBA court. Unfortunately, we never got the chance to see that duel.
Former NBA player Walt Williams recently joined us for our 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network. We talked about various interesting topics from Walt’s career and encounters with other NBA greats in his heyday. Williams touched on the Bias-MJ debate, compared the two, and shared if Bias could have been the GOAT, considering he had the chance to see both of them firsthand:
“I know certainly either we would have been talking about him(Bias) as the greatest of all time, or Jordan would be on an even different level. I think those guys certainly would have pushed each other to the max. The thing about Len Bias when you compare him to Michael Jordan, I think he was a little bit ahead of Michael when they were in college with his skillset. The jump shot that Bias had that was just the prettiest thing you could ever see. He could defend multiple positions; he was a kind of a hybrid of how you see the game played now. And that’s the tragedy of not seeing a Len Bias. I think the game would have gravitated to where it is much quicker.”Walt Williams, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network
Walt had some huge praise for Bias, as he was a freshman at Maryland only two years after Bias passed away, so he had the chance to hear all about what kind of talent Len was. An already defined and pro-ready player at the college level that would have entered the NBA without any weaknesses. MJ relied more on his athletic ability early in his career, and with time developed a tremendous all-around game, but Bias already had the whole package from the jump. That alone stirs up the debate of why Bias would have dominated even on the NBA level early and challenged Jordan in his prime years.
Walt, later on, pointed out how you can say for some young players that they resemble Jordan with their playstyle, but there hasn’t been a player we could have compared to Bias ever since his death. If he got to play in the NBA and show out to the global stage, we probably would have had a whole different set of young players coming up and basing their game on Bias. It’s a shame we got stripped away from that.