On the night of June 2, ESPN dedicated its programming to former Maryland basketball star Len Bias. The network aired a special edition of SportsCenter, which featured interviews with former teammates and opponents as well as journalists who covered Bias at Maryland.
ESPN followed that with a presentation of the Terps’ historic win at North Carolina in 1986, and the network concluded the night by airing “Without Bias.” The 30 for 30 film chronicled the life of Bias, who died of a cocaine overdose two days after being drafted No. 2 overall by the Boston Celtics in 1986.
Earlier in the spring, ESPN aired “The Last Dance,” a 10-part documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. It all reignited discussion among basketball fans about whether Bias could have rivaled Jordan in the NBA. For Maryland play-by-play announcer Johnny Holliday, the answer is clear.
“I think there’s no hesitation in my answer. My answer is absolutely yes,” Holliday said on Glenn Clark Radio June 3. “He had so much potential, so much talent that yet to be untapped. I think he had just begun to scratch the surface. I think he could have been as good, maybe even better, than Michael Jordan.”
Holliday has been calling Maryland football and men’s basketball games since 1979 and has fond memories of calling Bias’ games. Bias played for Maryland from 1982-86, averaging 16.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 0.7 blocks during his four seasons. The 6-foot-8 forward won ACC Player of the Year honors in 1984-85 and 1985-86.
Holliday, along with many Terp fans, watched and reflected on what Bias meant to Maryland.
“I think there were so many great memories of Len Bias when he played at Maryland and what he did and how he did it,” Holliday said. “I watched that show [June 2]. I thought those guys were terrific — the evaluation that Michael Wilbon gave, and the evaluation Jay Bilas gave because he played against him.”
Bias’ signature moment at Maryland was arguably helping the Terps upset No. 1 North Carolina on the road on Feb. 20, 1986. Maryland won, 77-72, behind a 35-point performance by Bias. It was the first time the Tar Heels lost in the Dean Smith Center.
Two notable players on Carolina were Brad Daugherty, who became a five-time NBA All-Star with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Kenny “The Jet” Smith, who won two NBA championships with the Houston Rockets.
“Carolina had such high-powered offenses and defenses, and they could do a lot of things with a lot of different guys,” Holliday said. “If you lined them all up, Len would be the one who’s the highlight of that team.”
Something that stood out to Holliday was how much Bias improved year to year. He more than doubled his scoring average between his freshman and sophomore seasons, improving from 7.1 to 15.3 points per game. Bias averaged 23.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 0.8 steals per game during his senior season. His athleticism was special to behold, often leaving Holliday and former player and analyst Greg Manning in awe.
“Greg and I would just shake our heads and say, ‘What can he do next?’” Holliday said. “Is there anything this kid can’t do?”
Holliday also called the Baltimore Bullets games during their last season in Baltimore (1972-73). He fondly remembers Wes Unseld, who passed away June 2. Unseld spent his entire 13-year career with the Bullets, including the first five years in Baltimore. He is sixth all time in rebounds per game (14.0).
Unseld was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988.
“Wes Unseld was just, I guess, the perfect gentleman, you could call him. Off the floor he almost always had the same expression on his face,” Holliday said. “You could never tell if he had three rebounds or 33 rebounds in a game. He was built like a brick truck. He wasn’t fast but he could jump. He had athleticism. He knew exactly where he should be at on that floor at all times. You talk about a silent leader, I think Wes Unseld would have to be in that category.”
For more from Holliday, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics