The Basketball Legend of Lenny Bias: An Excerpt From Chapter Six of The Engineers Part One

“Anwar, Lenny Bias was supposed to be the continuation of the Boston Celtics’ dynasty! He was going to take over for Larry Bird and those guys and the Celtics were going to keep winning!”

My Uncle Jeff, Len Bias, Basketball and Learning about Sports

“HEY NEPHEW! I’m hungover from the weekend of drinking and watching sports for three straight days! With college basketball, the NBA and the NFL, it literally went until last night!” My Uncle Bodine, better known as Uncle Jeff greeted me on the phone, telling me about his weekend. He sounded like he was coming off some sort of invigorating experience. ‘Bodine’ is a reference to the one of The Beverly Hillbillies. My mother and her siblings affectionately called him that.

Uncle Jeff’s excited voice indicated that he was worn out from something. After sharing what happened over the weekend with me, I understood. Uncle Jeff loved sports and bathed in them like all my uncles. We discussed a potential visit out west to one of the mountain states. We had not spoken in years. Our discussion reminded me of my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story afterwards. It reminded me specifically to start sharing excerpts here and there as authors do when giving samples of their final books. Uncle Jeff appears briefly in the story of my early and brief basketball journey.

The following passage comes from Chapter 6 of The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. My first lessons in accountability, grades and academic eligibility came that year and culminated in not being eligible for the junior varsity boys’ basketball team as a freshman. That had long-term ramifications. My Uncle Jeff was in Buffalo that year and he taught me a lot about sports for a short but valuable stretch of time.

Chapter 6- Unqualified For The Junior Varsity Team

My uncle Wesley J. McKinney living in Buffalo made the 1990-91 school year, my freshman year, very special. Uncle Jeff was the sixth of my grandmother’s eight children. He attended Hutch-Tech High School in the 1970s. Afterwards he entered the United States Air Force where he served overseas. He later settled in Omaha, Nebraska. I had no knowledge of Nebraska, but I kept hearing my mother and grandmother talk about it. It could’ve been a foreign country as far as I was concerned at the time.

At some point he left the Air Force and like a lot of people who left Buffalo, Uncle Jeff returned to regroup and figure out his next moves in life. He found a job at one of the University Plaza Tops Friendly Markets store, our major local supermarket chain and worked in the bakery. It was a logical fit as he was always inclined in the Culinary Arts and was unofficially our family chef.

Uncle Jeff had a brown complexion and wore his hair short. He was usually clean shaven though sometimes there were small growths of a beard on his face. He had a genuinely positive disposition whenever I saw him and had a happy and wide smile. Uncle Jeff was bowlegged and walked with a slight bounce. His voice was tenor kind of like David Ruffin’s from the legendary group the Temptations. He often wore a sweatshirt, t-shirt, jeans, sneakers and sometimes a baseball cap turned backwards.

What was great was that he stopped over our house regularly. We would sit and watch sports as he would sip on his beers and tell stories about the Air Force. He insisted that they made real beer in Germany for example unlike our watered-down beers in the United States. I was too young to know what he meant. Any beer I’d sipped up to that point tasted terrible. It was cool though because I was able to bond with a male figure and partake in his experiences.

The most powerful thing though was his knowledge of sports. Uncle Jeff knew a lot about football, basketball, and baseball – both college and professional. We never went out and played anything the way I did with Uncle John and Uncle Scotty on their visits, but I learned so much just listening to Uncle Jeff. He was an invaluable resource, and for that short period of time, he filled in something that had been missing up to that point in my basketball journey. Sitting and talking sports with my Uncle Jeff was one of the best times of my life.

“Anwar, Lenny Bias was supposed to be the continuation of the Boston Celtics’ dynasty! He was going to take over for Larry Bird and those guys and the Celtics were going to keep winning,” Uncle Jeff said one day. I had seen a picture of a guy named Len Bias in one of the NBA yearbooks I had purchased from Tops. It was on his draft night. He wore a cream-colored suit and a Boston Celtics baseball cap in 1986 after Commissioner David Stern announced the Celtics’ pick.

Lenny Bias? It always stood out to me that Uncle Jeff talked about Len Bias like he knew him personally. He got excited when he told that story like every other sports story and fact he shared with me. It may also have been the enthusiasm from his level of fandom spilling over into his telling the sports history.

Len Bias was uber-talented, and I heard he went toe to toe with Michael Jordan when the University of Maryland played the University of North Carolina. The stories were that he held his own against Michael and did not back down. Some argued that he was better than Michael, something I could not fathom at the time. He died tragically of a cocaine overdose shortly after being drafted in a dorm room on the University of Maryland at College Park Campus. Again, some said he was better than Michael or would have been better.

Michael Jordan is not the best basketball player in the world Anwar,” Uncle Jeff said. It was something me and Dad also discussed. The significance of the statement was that Michael, while great, was the simply the best player who stayed in school, stayed healthy, did not get snatched away by violent crime, and made it all the way to the proverbial basketball mountain top.

There were countless other players who did not make it for any number of reasons. For young black men, two of the main hindrances were poor academics and crime. It was around that time that I first started hearing of a player named Ritchie Campbell, a local phenom who was arguably the best basketball player Buffalo had ever produced. He did not reach his full potential due to academics and something crime related. He was talked about like a basketball God though.

Uncle Jeff hung around Buffalo for about a year before leaving again. He went down south somewhere, New Orleans, I think. While I wished he were around longer to pour more of his knowledge into me, the times that we sat and watched sports were special. For young people like myself who were still relatively new to athletics and competition, hearing stories about players like Len Bias from people who had seen him play, was very valuable. There was value in knowing about basketball and its history, in addition to playing it.

Closing Thoughts

A major theme of the book is who is and is not in your ecosystem when you are launching your life as a young person. This is critical in sports which are a metaphor for life. Some of my favorite childhood memories were watching sports with Uncle Jeff for that short time he lived in Buffalo. Becoming good at sports is knowing about them and their history in addition to mastering your skills. I learned a lot about them watching sports with Uncle Jeff. I would have learned infinitely more with more time around him.

It turns out that learning about sports is only part of learning to compete in athletics. You must also log the hours in practice and in real game situations to win games and eventually championships. There is no other way. The same goes for the game of life. I have embedded a promotional video as a bonus below from my sports YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76 Sports. Please consider giving the video a like and subscribing to the channel if you watch it. I plan to create more video content on the book there as well. Yours in good sports.

One Of The Biggest Lessons Sports Can Teach Us

The Big Words LLC Newsletter

For the next phase of my writing journey, I’m starting a monthly newsletter for my writing and video content creation company, the Big Words LLC. In it, I plan to share inspirational words, pieces from this blog and my first blog, and select videos from my four YouTube channels. Finally, I will share updates for my book project The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. Your personal information and privacy will be protected. Click this link and register using the sign-up button at the bottom of the announcement. If there is some issue signing up using the link provided, you can also email me at [email protected] . Best Regards.

One thought on “The Basketball Legend of Lenny Bias: An Excerpt From Chapter Six of The Engineers Part One”

  1. Hello all. Thank you for reading this excerpt from Chapter Six of my book project entitled, The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story. As I get closer to publishing part one of the story, I will share other select passages. If you have memories of Len Bias or anything else related to this offering, please let me know what you think in the comments section below.

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