How Cocaine Destroyed Our 80's Heroes

Last night was a revelation of what cocaine did to athletes in the 80’s. Watching the E:60 commentary on Dwight Gooden reminded me of what could have been and what actually was when we look at his career. I have to say I was a pretty young lad when watching most of the greats of the 80’s emerge but, nonetheless, I do remember and, quite frankly, I am appalled that more people in my age bracket don’t feel as slighted as I do.

Since baseball is mentioned first, we can go right to the dynamic duo.

Dwight Gooden was one of the most electric pitchers of his generation. He had a cannon for an arm and was the father of the cut fastball that has made Mariano Rivera a very wealthy man. Gooden could change his arm speed and keep hitters off-balance better than anyone. Gooden was virtually impossible to hit, until he was introduced to cocaine in 1986. After that introduction, he was more than average. He spent more time in rehab or in denial than actually on the mound. It’s a shame, too, because he would have probably gone down in history as one of the five best right-handed pitchers of all-time.

Staying in the same sport and on the same team, there weren’t many guys out there better than Darryl Strawberry.  Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Strawberry was one of the most feared sluggers in the game, known for his prodigious home runs and his intimidating presence in the batter's box, with his 6-foot-6 frame and his long, looping swing that elicited comparisons to Ted Williams. Strawberry's Mets from 1984–1990 formed one of the premier teams in the National League, finishing either first or second in the division every year.

But as good as the Mets were on the field, they constantly feuded off the field. Despite this, Strawberry remained an iconic figure in not only New York City, but across America. He was loathed by opposing fans, but beloved by New Yorkers and young fans across the country. Strawberry was on pace to be one of the greatest to ever play the game, and then that demon (cocaine) came and snatched his soul. He would continue to have up-and-down seasons, as he bounced around the league, but he would never be the same after the cocaine demons attacked his body.

The greatest loss of them all was the tragic loss of Len Bias. Everyone remembers Michael Jordan as the greatest player ever. Jordan was a product of the 80’s and excelled on the highest level in the 90s. What people don’t remember is the impact that Len Bias had on the game of basketball in the 80’s. Bias was a bigger Jordan, if you will. He had Jordan’s skill-set, but he was a post player by trade.  I often refer to him as the Lebron James of his day. He could beat you on the inside, or he could take you outside, and fill it up. More than two decades after his tragic cocaine overdose, the late Len Bias still leaves more questions than answers.

When Bias dropped dead two days after the 1986 NBA Draft, he forever altered our perception of casual drug use and became the tipping point of America's drug crisis in the mid-80's. Future generations continue to face the harsh punishment of drug policies that were influenced by the public outcry after his heartbreaking death. Instead of becoming an NBA star, he became a one-man deterrent, the athlete who reminded everyone just how dangerous drug use can be.

Like it or not, cocaine took away possible greatness from all three of these guys and possibly so many more.

In the words of Rick James…. “Cocaine is a hell of a drug..."

Stay Breezy ~ I’m Out!

6 Replies to “How Cocaine Destroyed Our 80's Heroes”

  1. It just hit me how you are so right with this one. You could have kept going as well. Guys like Michael Ray Richardson and Diego Maradona could be added to the list too. Just think of how great guys like Lawrence Taylor and Michael Irvin were and they had an addiction too. It's a shame though because Gooden would have gone down as one of the greatest to ever play the game. He was that good. Nice post.

  2. Doc was a beast. He was ready to apex like Eddie Murphy did in New York City, he was young with a dope personality...and that lifestyle built him up and tore him down.

    Oh, and folks forget how nice Strawberry was even post-cocaine. Dude was supremely legit. Good read Joe.


  3. I am just sad that we were robbed of the possibly greatest rivalry in the history of the nba. Jordan was rivaled often by guys who didn't play his position like ewing and malone. the guys at his position that did challenge him like miller and drexler (don't forget dan majerle, my personal favorite player) were great, but bias would have most likely been better than all of them. could anyone imagine the battles that jordan and bias would have had? jordan would have won though.

  4. Bias was special. The man could do things that most couldn't do. Ed mentioned post drugs Strawberry. Imagine how many records Straw would have broken if he would have been sober all those years. Good read guys.

  5. @Dennis - Diego Maradona let a country down with his abuse. Man that is a story in itself.

    @Ed - Thanks my brotha

    @Jeremy - I wish we could have gotten a chance to see it materialize. We got Bird/Magic, We got Russell/Chamberlain, We got Barkley/Malone, We even got Olajuwan/Ewing, but we never got a chance to see Mike play a rival his age. They were always older and younger. That could have been epic for the NBA.

  6. You forget that Bias was going to a Celtics team that would have had Bird, Parrish, etc. They would have definitely won a few more Chips had he not overdosed. Bias would have also played SF instead of SG.

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