As college basketball's March Madness winds down, high school teams across the country are staging their own post-season dramas, and I was fortunate recently to be a part of championship game activities for Washington, D.C. area basketball.
On March 19 I spoke about my book Born Ready: The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias at a luncheon Monday at Verizon Center honoring the players that took part in the Abe Pollin City Title Games the next day. The games determined the best boys and girls high school teams in the Washington, DC area and is named after the late owner of the Washington Bullets and Wizards who was an icon in the DC sports community. I tried to impart a key message from the the book that stresses the importance of making good decisions, using as a tool Bias's bad decision to snort the cocaine that killed him two days after the Celtics made him the number 2 pick of the 1986 draft.
During my speech, I noticed a few players among the hundred or so guests paying close attention, leaning forward, their chins propped up on their hands. This calmed my concern that the message would be lost in what I expected to be preoccupied minds of the players and amid the verbal crosswinds of what felt like a long-winded presentation. One listening intently was Stanford Robinson, a star junior forward for Paul VI Catholic, which ended the season unbeaten in Washington Catholic Athletic Conference league play and also won its league tournament for the first time.
After I spoke Paul VI coach Glenn Farello approached me with a tall, lean, somber looking young man walking closely behind him. Farello introduced me to the 6-foot-3 Robinson, who he said was a top-50 college prospect. ESPNU ranks him 46th overall and Scout.com ranks Robinson as the ninth best shooting guard in the country.
During my speech, I imparted some advice when making a decision: make a list of the pros and cons; seek out someone you trust -- a coach, a counselor, a friend, a parent -- for advice if you're struggling with a decision; don't think that you have to make decisions alone; once you make a decision, own it; if it's a bad decision, make sure you learn something from it.
I stressed that Bias made a bad decision that killed him, hurt his family and friends, and disrupted the Maryland athletic department and the Boston Celtics for years.
After the speech, Robinson stood in front of me, appearing as if he wanted to say something. "It's nice to meet you," I said, shaking his hand. "Good luck tomorrow."
"I just wanted to thank you for your speech today," he said, softly. "I've struggled with something recently and what you said has helped me deal with it."
Robinson and Farello did not offer specifics about the problem, but Tuesday morning I read in a Washington Post preview of the game that Robinson violated school rules and he would miss the game. He was suspended from the team.
Imagine that you're the top scorer for your team, as is Robinson (13.5 points per game) and you've got to miss perhaps the most important game of your young life. You could see the pain poking through Robinson's humbled expression as we talked. He clearly knew he had made a mistake that, with his absence, could affect his team's chances of winning the title.
A Washington Post report Wednesday about the game mentioned in the lead that Robinson was forced to watch the game online. Still, Paul VI won the game. A teammate said in the Post that Robinson's situation helped motivate them in the game.
Robinson will face many tough decisions as he gets older, including which college to attend. When you speak to youth, you hope that you impact at least one person. Robinson clearly felt the impact of the message that continues from the death of Bias, who was unable to learn from his biggest mistake. I hope what Robinson has learned from his mistake will guide him through his future. And I hope that the 2012 DC city title game will be the last championship contest he is forced to miss.