30 Years in 30 Days: Day 10- The Greatest Team of All Time Sounds Off
With no disrespect meant towards this year's Warriors or the 96 Bulls or the 72 Lakers or any of Russell's Celtics, the 1986 Celtics were the best team in the history of the NBA. So how did they react to Len's death? I thought it'd be interesting compiling the quotes from the players. I was able to track down one for each guy from the team, unfortunately except for Dennis Johnson, Rick Carlisle, Bill Walton (surprisingly) and David Thirdkill (not surprisingly).
First off, Celtics' reserve center, Greg Kite:
I think I was down in Orlando, I'd go back down there after the season and play summer league ball. That was a shocker. I had a chance to meet him briefly when he came to Boston during the playoffs. He was on a business trip. We knew a little about him from his college days, but Red had seen him play a lot because he lived in the D.C. area and Len was from that area as well. Red would go to most of the Maryland games, and Red thought that this guy was a 6'-8” Michael Jordan.
I can remember it being talked about a little bit when we came back to training camp, but I don't remember it being talked about a lot. But Len Bias was a really big key in the Celtics' transition to the next generation of players. He was going to provide that continuity as the Big Three were starting to get a little older. And then a few years later you had Reggie Lewis passing away, so you look at the passing of those two guys and you wonder what might have been.
We got into that 1986-87 season, and the health issues really started kicking in. Bill only played about 10 games. Kevin finished the season and ended up with a screw in his foot after the season and was never quite the same again. Larry's back and Achilles issues were hurting him, and Chief a constant ankle sprain during that playoff run. Scott Wedman had some sort of leg injury. So a lot of those key guys were over thirty with a lot of NBA miles on them.
Scott Wedman, who was a hell of a player (1 time all star) and a key contributor to the 86 team and likely the guy that's minutes would've been most impacted by the drafting of Bias, but as we know, turned out to go to Fred Roberts:
"When you lose Len Bias, and then they lost Reggie Lewis, those are significant losses."
Back-up guard, Jerry Sichting:
I was back in Indiana at that point. I was at my in-laws house. I remember my wife waking me up pretty early in the morning – there was a phone call from Boston. I can’t even remember who exactly it was that called, but I just couldn’t believe it. It just seemed like a bad dream. I started calling other people within the organization, and all of a sudden it’s on the TV and on the radio. That’s when it finally hit me that it was true. Len Bias was going to be a great, great player. The next great Celtic.
Sam Vincent, who probably had the closest relationship with Len at the time, having befriended him while working Red Auerbach's camp with him a few years earlier:
After sitting back and thinking about it, the thought which ran through my mind was “That’s about how it easy it can happen- no matter how great a person or how young a person. It can happen to anybody, anytime.”
"I can't get over this," Vincent said. "Growing up, you learn all about death and all of that, but you never really feel it until it hits you close. This is hard. One day, you're talking to a friend about the future, and the next day, your friend isn't here. I still don't want to believe Lenny isn't here."
Starting shooting guard Danny Ainge had played with Bias in Marshfield during the summer of 1985:
"He was perfect for u. I was never so excited. With Kevin, Robert, and Larry, he would give us the perfect rotation. I looked at it as a great fit for him and the franchise."
"He was so excited," Ainge said. "He told me when I met him it was everything he dreamed of. He was on top of the world, laughing, smiling and drinking 7-Up. It's hard to believe that a guy I was with the night before last, a guy I got to know and like, is gone."
Starting center, Robert Parish:
The edge the Lakers had on us was they had more firepower. Losing Reggie Lewis and Len Bias really hurt us. Having Bias we would’ve won back to back titles in 86 and 87.
Kevin McHale, who I believe would've been the guy eventually moved by Red for younger talent since Bias would've taken over his spot, was very outspoken about it at the time but more for the drug-use reason:
"Lenny Bias' tragedy was a rude awakening. Death sneaks up on you. We have to do something to decrease the chances of something like this occurring again.
"I would tell Red today that I'd submit to drug testing any time he wants," McHale said, referring to Red Auerbach, the Celtic president and former coach. "I'm going to make my feelings known to the other players.
"The hell with the players' association on this particular issue. They should be trying to help players rather than being concerned about protecting them from being caught.
"Lenny's death should make them see that the best thing the association can do for its players is go along with the league and take the toughest stand possible on drug use."
And as for Larry himself? He tells Bill Simmons here his thoughts of Len Bias:
I find it very interesting that Ainge and Bird, the two guys from the team that had the chance to play against Bias and who are both considered to be excellent judges of talent in their roles today, both raved about Len's ability.
10 Seasons Before: 1976-77, Celtics lose in Eastern Conference Semifinals
10 Seasons After: 1995-96, Celtics fail to qualify for playoffs