30 Years in 30 Days: Day 5- Len Bias shines at the 5 Star Camp & meets his equal, Michael Jordan

picture by Richard N Greenhouse
Guest post by Dave Ungrady

During the summer after his sophomore year, Bias for the first time attended the Five Star Basketball Camp. There, the top high-school basketball players in the nation gathered annually to learn from NBA or college players as well as such luminary coaches as Bobby Knight, Chuck Daly and Hubie Brown. The camp also served as a prime location for college coaches to scout the top high school talent and is considered the precursor to the AAU programs that now serve the same purpose.

The best players received free tuition at the camp, but worked off their fee as waiters. That first year, Bias paid his own way. Brian Waller, who also attended, says Bias’s first Five Star camp experience transformed him as a player. “He either outplayed the other guys or played them evenly,” he remembers. “His confidence changed after the Five Star camp. After that, there was no looking back.”

One of the first people Bias met at camp was Michael Jordan, then a rising-star senior at Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina. As Waller remembers, Jordan had already been at the camp for a week working with Spriggs, the Northwestern alumnus and at the time a top player at Howard University, who was among the counselors that year. “We saw Jordan sitting on a bench and Larry said he wanted to introduce him to his homeboys,” says Waller. “Larry introduced me as my nickname, ‘Ice.’ Jordan said, ‘They call me ‘Black Ice.’ ”

Len with the green wristbands shooting over Michael at 5 Star.

With the ice broken, roommates Waller and Bias spent lots of time with Jordan and his roommate Buzz Peterson, who would later become Jordan’s teammate at North Carolina. The four bonded quickly, gathering in each other’s rooms at night talking about their basketball dreams. The friendship between Bias and Jordan grew stronger the following year. Waller and Bias ran into Jordan and a friend at a University of Maryland football game, and the four left the game early to play two-on-two games in Cole Field House for about an hour. “We beat them,” Waller says proudly.

By the summer after his junior year, Bias had reached the heralded Five Star camp status of waiter, which allowed him free tuition. Howard Garfinkel, who started the camp in 1966 and ran it for 42 years, says that after his second year at the camp Bias received a 5-plus rating – the highest a player can receive – signifying “super” potential to dominate college at the Division 1 level. He also won the Most Outstanding Player award that year over such future NBA players as Dawkins and Billy Thompson, who helped Louisville win the NCAA in 1986. “He was one of the top 10 or 15 best ever at our camp,” says Garfinkel. “He was an extra-terrestrial athlete and a great scorer. And he was a great person, very likable.”

Excerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias
Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

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5 Seasons After: 1990-91, Celtics lose in Eastern Conference Semifinals

Index of 30 Years in 30 Days articles