About 9:30 on the morning of June 19, 1986, I got a call at home from John Papanek, an editor at Sports Illustrated. It was a Thursday, the beginning of SI's workweek.
"So, what about Len Bias?" he asked.
I had just completed my first year on the NBA beat, so I started right in on my basketball knowledge.
"Perfect draft pick for the Celtics," I began. "He's too big and strong for most of the small forwards who'll guard him, and too quick for most of the power forwards ..."
"Jack," John interrupted me. "Bias is dead."
This was before the age of ubiquitous bombarding of social media, so it was within the realm of possibility to have gone to bed the night before without hearing big news.
"You're kidding, right?" I said, echoing the response of a million others when they heard the news. "How? When? Why?"
"Looks like drugs," said Papanek. "You're on the story."
So much for the vacation that was supposed to occur after a long NBA season that had ended 11 days earlier.
Within a couple hours I was in my car driving somewhere, either to Landover (where Bias grew up), College Park (where he played at the University of Maryland) or Baltimore or Washington (where he might've gotten the cocaine that killed him). As I recall, I encamped somewhere in the nexus of those places.
Twenty-five years later, the death of the 22-year-old Bias -- who had just been selected by reigning champion Boston as the No. 2 pick in the 1986 draft, the player who was going to be the bridge to another Celtics title, not a "new Larry Bird" but certainly a next-generation version of the legend -- remains one of the most memorable stories I ever covered. And not just for me. Documentarian Kirk Fraser created "Without Bias" for ESPN's "30 for 30" film series. At the NBA Finals in Dallas recently, I had breakfast with Mike Wilbon, the former Washington Post columnist who is now with ESPN, when the death of Bias came up in conversation. "Covering Len Bias and covering the Dream Team were the most important stories in my career," Wilbon said.
I feel the same way.