Dodson reflects on the new documentary Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy and the tragic story of basketball phenom Len Bias to smoke out the facts about crack and its talent for ravaging and dividing society.
Netflix has a new documentary out that is worthy of a hit off the old boob tube pipe. From acclaimed director Stanley Nelson (he also did the Mike Vick 30 for 30), Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy smokes out all of the old clichés and lays them to waste with facts and first-hand accounts from the real players in the game. Well, almost all of the real players. Oliver North and so many government officials and operatives declined to comment both in the documentary and for this article.
There were two sides to cocaine: the glamour side that came from the public usage of musicians and other celebrities and the darker side of crack use that led to so many negative stereotypes and obstacles to overcoming the addiction.
Need proof, try a thought experiment. Name your favorite band of the era or reference Scarface enough and perhaps you’ll think the bombastic buzz of cocaine can be fun and useful for a moment. Maybe you think a small toot of the very expensive nose candy is a moderate pick me up for the Wall Street maven. Now face the reality that the words ‘crack baby’ not only evoke an emotion, it might remind you of someone.
Len Bias was the turning point in bringing the two realities together.
The crack epidemic of the 1980s burst onto the scene like Ronald Reagan—and also Magic, Bird, and Jordan. Along with it came the War on Drugs, mandatory minimums, and the first political usage of the phrase “Make America Great Again.” And in a sniff, the world got a little bit colder in a lot of respects. Players did not have much of a voice for change, forcing Jordan to comment about Republicans buying shoes instead of using his platform for real change. The aftereffects of addiction and incarceration have torn apart just as many families as the drug use has whittled away the individuals in the middle.
As Rick Ross (the real Rick Ross, Freeway Ricky, not Fat Bob the Corrections Office with the fake beard) has said, to make crack you need cocaine. That kilo of cocaine is gonna cost the same no matter if you dilute the powder for a snort or cook it up with some baking powder to make a rock. Money still has to be made. The rich got the pure product, but in order to experience a similar high, poor had to resort to the same stretch it out measures of Em’s mom’s spaghetti. Once an inexperienced hand plays with the product, the results can turn fatal.
Len Bias brought that reality to life. Listen to the 911 call. That was Len Bias. Youngbloods will not understand, but at one time Len Bias was too big of a celebrity, too good a person, too great a player, and meant too much to his community, to die so suddenly. He was Len Bias. He had to be saved. He was an integral part of the hoops culture, one that would help bridge the divide between the two America’s while charming the world.
But he was not brought back to life, and the puns on his name aside, it was that day some biases were born and some started to die. In his death, Len Bias started many conversations about equality, justice, and the true rampant nature of drugs that the suburban community refused to recognize until the opiate epidemic. The imbalances in the judicial process and the thought process of the community and treatment professionals started to tilt towards something sensible, if only slightly. Some minds were changed that day, hearing that news, and that was a start.
Thirty years after his death, players have used their power to negotiate for changes both in their employment environment and in their communities. Mental health and wellness awareness are now priorities of the NBA, its players, and their fans. Donnie Nelson joked with players about drug tests then lit a joint, retired, and started a weed farm.
That’s a far cry from the first days of the crack explosion. The scourge could not make it to the suburbs, so the suburban voting bloc wanted to believe. If only they could vote in the right people to make the correct decisions in order to keep that dirty drug only in areas with dirty people. Or so was the underlying thought and the underlying tones of the political dog whistles coming from the Republican Party since Reagan first played President, before we let reality show super-chumps hold the political and nuclear footballs like they were just complicated bananas.
We are a smarter society now, or so we believe. There are still ways we look at issues that pop up, very complex ones like drug usage or COVID-19, under very simple terms. Then something hits home and the world changes. That has happened to too many families in the past year-plus of the COVID-19 pandemic. It happened too much through the crack epidemic. Then Len Bias changed the hoops world in his tragic departure from his Earthly home. It is sad that it sometimes takes tragedy to expose the cracks in the culture. It is worse if we do not act in response. We can only make things better by being proactive, as many of today’s players finally understand.
The culture of the community is stronger than ever as a result, and it’s been a decade since the term “pass the rock” got the wrong kind of chuckle. We’ve come a long way. Watch the documentary and then come back to Music, Movies & Hoops to build on the conversation.