player at the University of Maryland
. Became the #2 overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft
by the Boston Celtics
and was dead of heart failure
caused by cocaine
less than 48 hours later.
Bias was an athletic and charismatic 6'8" forward who averaged 23.2 points per game his senior year (1986), leading the ACC. In fact, Bias was named ACC Player of the Year in both 1985 and 1986 (following Michael Jordan, who was Player of the Year in 1984).
On June 17, 1986, the Celtics chose him 2nd in the NBA Draft in New York (behind only Brad Daugherty, taken by Cleveland). Bias was going to make millions of dollars, get to play for the legendary Boston Celtics and be teammates with Larry Bird (among others).
Two days later, Bias passed out in a dorm room after a night of partying and snorting cocaine. He never woke up and was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after. Len Bias was 22 years old.
In the aftermath, Maryland head coach Lefty Driesell was ousted (some see him as a scapegoat; others believe he didn't have control of his players and Bias's death was at least somewhat related to him).
Perhaps more importantly, Bias's death raised the profile of cocaine use among athletes. New York Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden's cocaine problems came a few months later. Sports leagues, and American society at large, began cracking down on cocaine use. Bias's death brought the problem to the forefront.
The reputation of the University of Maryland was hurt by everything surrounding the Bias tragedy. Their basketball team has only recently (mid-late '90s) recovered.
Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics went into freefall with Bird and Kevin McHale retiring and Bias not being there to replace them. They became one of the NBA's worst teams in the '90s, leading some to refer to it as "The Curse of Len Bias".
Bias is one of many athletes who were never able to live up to their tremendous potential due to tragedy. However, his death was significant in that it woke up the sports world to the dangers of drugs and how it can wreck careers, and lives.
Sources: various websites, especially the Washington Post's series of articles (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/longterm/memories/bias/biasfrnt.htm); also ESPN's SportsCentury flashback on Bias