WASHINGTON — Len Bias obtained $21,000 in personal loans this spring, and his family is faced with repaying those debts, as well as funeral expenses, according to representatives of the Maryland basketball star who died June 19 of cardiac arrest induced by cocaine intoxication.
Bias obtained two loans from the D.C. National Bank, according to Joseph Head, a senior vice president. The first was co-signed by his father, James. The second was a loan extended on the basis of Bias' status as a future National Basketball Assn. player and his association with Advantage International, the firm that was to handle his negotiations and business affairs, Head said.
Sources fixed the amount of the first loan at $6,000, to be used for an insurance policy, and the second at $15,000, to be used for living expenses as Bias traveled around the country meeting with NBA teams before the draft. Bias also took out a lease on a blue-gray Nissan 300ZX.
The family is now also faced with paying funeral expenses, estimated to be between $4,000 and $5,000.
The disclosure of the financial problems came shortly after Maryland's chief medical examiner, amending his previous autopsy report on Bias's death, said there was "a distinct probability" that the incident that took Bias' life was not the first time Bias had used cocaine.
In an autopsy report released June 28, Dr. John E. Smialek had said that there was no evidence of cocaine use by Bias before his death.
Thursday night, however, after the release of what he called a final autopsy report, Smialek said that based on the nature of damage to heart muscle fibers found in recent microscopic studies, "I think there's a distinct probability that previous exposure to cocaine was the cause of that."
As for the loans, Bias' collateral was simply his potential worth as a first-round draft choice. "We knew what he'd be worth," Head said. "We also know Advantage."
Head said the bank was not yet seeking to collect on the loans, and did not anticipate any problem with payment. When it does call in the loans, it will go through Advantage, which has set up a "family fund" for contributions to help the Bias family deal with its debts.
"We have not even thought about the loans," Head said. "The dollar amounts are in no way significant to us. We're just sick about the event. . . . There is no reason to think there will ever be a problem. When we do think about it, our first step will be to go through Advantage."
According to Gordon Wangersheim, vice president in charge of marketing services for Advantage, securing a personal loan is standard practice for a future draft pick, who usually needs spending money for his travels. Wangersheim said Advantage did not help Bias obtain the loan or co-sign it, but that, "We helped get him to the right people."
Bias was the second player chosen overall in the NBA draft, by the Boston Celtics, just two days before he collapsed in his dormitory suite on the University of Maryland campus. Lee Fentress, his agent at Advantage, has said he had planned to seek a three- or four-year deal with the Celtics that would have paid Bias nearly $1 million a year.
In addition, on the day before his death, Bias had committed to a long-term, six-figure contract with the Reebok shoe company. But he had not yet signed the contract and was not advanced any money.
In April, Bias took out an accident and death insurance policy with Lloyd's of London, according to Fentress. The policy has been reported to be in excess of $1 million. But industry sources have said it is doubtful anybody will be able to collect on the policy.
R.H. Bradshaw, a Toronto-based insurance broker and pioneer in the field of insuring athletes, said: "Most of these policies would include a drug/alcohol-abuse waiver. If it turns out there is a claim, as a result of the abuse, the policy would be voided."
Bias' father is an equipment repairman, and his mother, Lonise, is a bank manager.
Contributions to the Advantage family fund, which are not tax-deductible, will go primarily toward the funeral costs. But they also could be used to help repay the personal bank loans.
"That's up to the family," Wangersheim said. "There is a Len Bias family fund to defray the funeral expenses and also to send the other kids to college, which is something Len said he wanted to do for them. The loans would really be at the discretion of the Biases. We're just trying to do something to help."
Wangersheim estimated that "roughly $5,000 to $10,000" has been collected so far.
The University of Maryland is not affiliated with the family fund. Instead, the school is in the process of setting up a Len Bias Memorial Fund that will pay for an athletic scholarship. Contributions will go through the Maryland Foundation, which handles all gifts to the university. They will be tax-deductible, to be used only for financial aid to Maryland athletes, and will not go to the family.