The Boston Celtics, Len Bias, and the War on Drugs

So the Celtics celebrated another championship the other night, their first since 1986. I wasn’t nearly as bitter this time around.

True, they didn’t beat the Twin Towers this time – Akeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson – my high school heroes, but the real reason for my lack of interest is that I haven’t paid attention at all to the NBA in years.

However, Pete at Drug WarRant reminds us all of what happened after that last Celtic championship. They drafted Len Bias, who overdosed two days later. Tip O’Neil, D-Boston, was Speaker of the House. I won’t rehash Pete’s excellent original analysis of the situation, but suffice it say that yes, this incident was in large part responsible for such tragedies as mandatory minimum sentences in cocaine cases, the 100-1 crack to cocaine ratio, and basically the unreasonably long sentences still meted out in federal drug cases.

Democrats wanted to show their constituents just how ‘tough on crime’ they could be, so political expediency trumped thoughtful analysis, and over two decades later the U.S. leads the world by far in incarceration.

And just think. If my 1986 Rockets had beaten Bird, Parrish and McHale? Boston would have had a different place in the draft, and probably wouldn’t have selected Len Bias. Amazing what random chance can do to an entire criminal justice system.

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tbrinnand - July 7, 2008 10:12 AM

The War on Drugs has nothing to do with either reason or rationality. If it wasn't Len Bias, they would have found something else. Remember, this is the government that on one hand classifies cannabis as having no medical value (CSA Schedule I) and on the other hand files for and is awarded a on the use of cannabis in the treatment of a wide variety of diseases including stroke, trauma, auto-immune disorders, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and HIV dementia. It's US patent number 6,630,507, and the assignee is the US Dept of Health and Human Services. You can look it up online.

JRL - July 8, 2008 5:53 PM

I am a basketball fan. So I can correct you about two things. 1) Len Bias was the #2 pick in the draft courtesy of Seattle ... so Boston's record had nothing to do with them owning the rights to the #2 pick in the draft. Second, it's Hakeem Olajuwon. Anyways, I enjoy your blog. Always a very good read.

Jamie - July 8, 2008 6:33 PM

JRL:

Thanks for stopping by.

On your first point, I concede. That was hastily (and worse - inaccurately) reported by me as the number one instead of number two pick.

However, on your second point, I do not concede.

It's not that you're 100% wrong, it's just that in the situation I was talking about, it's more correct to use "Akeem".

He didn't change, or revert if you will, to Hakeem until 1991, when he re-found his Muslim faith.

In the post, I refer to the Twin Towers, Ralph and Akeem. Also, it clearly refers to 1986. I'm going to stick to my guns on that one.

You may even remember Akeem's Phi Slamma Jamma UH uniform that he wore on court during games in college: they said "Akeem" (not Olajuwon, and certainly not Hakeem).

Again, thanks for stopping by, and hey, don't feel like you have to stay anonymous...

Owekimmesia - December 27, 2008 9:36 AM

Hey your website is cute
I have a new band and we just had a live gig you can see here:
http://tinyurl.com/8lxnsg

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