I started thinking about Len Bias today, after some idiot wrote an article comparing Bias’s death to Kevin Durant’s relocation from Seattle to Oklahoma City. (Which is kind of like comparing the time your grandparent died to the time your grandparent caught a cold, but I digress.) Every time I think of Bias, I think of one lasting image. Right after Bias was drafted, only a day or two before he overdosed and passed away, Bias was on top of the world with this hat on his head.
As Bill Simmons described the scene, “A green Celtics hat crammed on Bias’ head, millions and millions of green dollars ahead of him, green with experience, holding up the green and white uniform … nothing but green. That smile on Draft Day, will the image ever completely fade away? Did anyone seem happier, ever? He looked like a little boy, didn’t he? Can you still see him? I can. I see that smile and I see miles of green.”
And then he was gone. As quickly as Len Bias became a Celtic he became a ghost, one that would haunt the Celtics organization for the next 22 years as Celtics fans wondered, “What if Len Bias had never used cocaine?”
24 years after Bias’s death, the Celtics organization has finally recovered. But the image of his draft photo remains an indelible mark in franchise history; Bias, king of the world, possibilities endless, slightly crooked brim of a Celtics hat angled skyward off the top of his head, the toothy smile on his face revealing a man perfectly content with his new job and his limitless future.
You can own the hat. I already do. And every time I put it on, I wonder, “What if…?”