Red Auerbach: Len Bias' Drug Use Viewed as Singular Incident

Celtics legend reflects on draft decision amid Bias controversy.

by Nouman Rasool
Red Auerbach: Len Bias' Drug Use Viewed as Singular Incident
© ACC Digital Netword/YouTube

In a pivotal moment for the Boston Celtics, Red Auerbach’s strategic foresight was once again on display when he drafted Larry Bird in the 1978 Draft. This decision, despite Bird's ongoing commitment to college basketball, marked a turning point for the franchise, laying the groundwork for a dynasty characterized by unparalleled success.

The genius of Auerbach shone through once more in 1986, with the selection of Len Bias as the No. 2 overall pick, a move celebrated by many as the inception of the next era of Celtics dominance. Tragically, the promise of Bias’ burgeoning career was cut short just two days following his selection, as news of his death from a cocaine overdose sent shockwaves through the basketball world.

In the wake of this unforeseen tragedy, speculation was rampant, yet Auerbach maintained a belief that Bias had only just encountered drugs, a mistake that proved fatal.

Auerbach's Insights on Bias

In a candid 1991 interview with Bob Costas, Auerbach reminisced about Bias’ aspirations to excel in the NBA, adorned in the Celtics’ esteemed green and white.

He suggested that Bias, unfortunately, found himself amidst detrimental influences. This belief was reinforced by Bias’ clean bill of health from comprehensive medical screenings conducted by not just the Celtics but also the Golden State Warriors and the New York Knicks, none of which hinted at drug use.

Addressing inquiries about the diligence of background checks on draft prospects, Auerbach highlighted the uncertainties inherent in lottery picks and the impracticality of vetting 10-12 candidates. He expressed unwavering trust in Bias, likening his character to that of Celtics legends Bird and Kevin McHale, underscoring a belief in their shared aversion to substance misuse.

Auerbach's conviction in the integrity of his selection was unshakable, even amid varying accounts of Bias’ supposed drug involvement. He steadfastly believed that Bias had steered clear of drugs, at least in the lead-up to the draft.

"Absolutely I am," Auerbach affirmed, addressing whether he believed Bias’ drug use was a solitary lapse. "Some people have written he tried a few times before. All I know is at least a month before the draft, he was clean." This assertion reflected not just Auerbach’s confidence in Bias but also his enduring commitment to the character and potential of his players, a testament to his legendary tenure with the Celtics.