I watched ESPN's 30 for 30 episode about the death of Len Bias. The show brought back many of the emotions I felt at that time when we heard the news of what had happened. At that time as a teenager, basketball was the center of mine and my friends' universe, and the news of his tragic passing hit all of us very hard.
We all know that Bias' death had a tragic impact on his family and friends. His death left his fans nationwide in disbelief. His passing turned the Maryland basketball program upside down. His death also had a huge impact on society as a whole. The impact of the loss to the Boston Celtics was illustrated by their 21 year drought between championships. In the Golden Era of NBA basketball, Bias was poised to become its next big star.
Watching the show got me thinking about it from a different angle. How did Len Bias' death change the history of the sports products industry? At the time, Nike had struck gold with Michael Jordan and the success of the Air Jordan. Jordan burst on to the NBA scene and his shoe became the catalyst for the biggest boom in the history of the sports industry. Converse had endorsements from the NBA's biggest pre-Jordan stars in Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. It looked very likely that Bias had the talent and the potential to become the next great superstar in the NBA, joining the other three as one of the most powerful endorsers in the game.
Bias was the first round pick in the 1986 NBA draft of the Boston Celtics. Immediately after being drafted by the Celtics, he signed an endorsement contract with Reebok. Had Bias taken the court for the 1986 season wearing a Reebok shoe, he may have been able to add a completely new dynamic to the basketball shoe business at the time. The talent and style that Bias' would have displayed in the NBA may have given Reebok a product that could have been a rival to the Air Jordan. We will never know what heights Bias could have achieved and what impact he may have had on how the shoe business played out in the 1980's and 1990's. The entire business could have gone a completely different direction.
Bias had a playing style that would have immediately placed him among the most popular players in the game. It is quite likely that he may have been able to give Michael Jordan a run for his money in merchandise sales. Sales of Michael Jordan related products propelled the sports licensed products industry into its greatest period ever. Jordan was the undisputed king of product sales. How might that have changed if we would have been lucky enough to see Len Bias develop on the NBA court? Bias' talent and popularity would very likely have given the industry a completely new dynamic. Bias' success with the Boston Celtics might have made apparel from the team give Chicago Bulls apparel a run for its money as the top seller in sports.
The loss of Len Bias still stands out as one of the most shocking and tragic losses the sports industry has ever experienced. Bias' incredible talent would have given basketball fans another great superstar to admire and root for. There is no way to measure the impact he would have had on the NBA, the sport of basketball and the business of sports as well. We will always be left to wonder what Len Bias may have achieved on the court and the special memories he would have left behind for all of us to remember and how he could have changed the course of the business of sports.