Absurd Drug Sentences: Thank You, Red Auerbach




Over the past 30 years state and Federal courts have jailed millions of Americans on drug charges.  Many were sentenced under draconian Mandatory Minimums that have accomplished nothing except pissing away hundreds of billions with the absurd notion that it will reduce drug abuse.

For every drug dealer that went to the slammer there were a dozen looking to replace him. Notwithstanding Mandatory Minimums, we are, today, awash in cocaine and heroin as evidenced by the drop in prices

Is there anyone left who thinks it worked?

Even the Justice Department now indicates that it is looking at moving to mitigate the sentences of 10,000 or more non-violent drug offenders.

So how did we get into this costly mess?

While you can point the finger at a lot of folks, I believe you can put the ultimate blame on Arnold “Red” Auerbach — the late coach, General Manager and President of the Boston Celtics.


Red Auerbach

Arnold Jacob “Red” Auerbach



For years conservatives in the House of Representatives had been pushing for Mandatory Minimum sentencing.  For years, the guy holding it up was Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill (Dem. Mass.) who thought it was a waste of money and would not work.  All that unexpectedly changed in 1986.

On June 17, the NBA convened its annual draft.  Auerbach desperately wanted to draft Len Bias an all-American strong forward from the University of Maryland.  To get Bias, he traded up with the Seattle Supersonics and took Bias as the second pick in the draft.

Two days later, Bias, who had an undetected heart problem, died from a cardiac arrhythmia induced from snorting cocaine.

O’Neill, who was in Boston when Bias died, went ballistic. Boston is a big sports town. You can burn the flag; but don’t mess with the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins or the Celtics.

Cocaine had done the unforgivable.  It had interfered with the Celtics plan for continuing its NBA dynasty.

O’Neill immediately returned to Washington and convened a meeting of the House members who dealt with criminal laws.

The gloves were off. Mandatory Minimums became the law of the land before the year was out.

Our greatest law enforcement disaster was unstoppable.  Nationwide, politicians took every opportunity to play the “get tough card”.  No amount of jail time was enough. Death to drug kingpins was the mantra.

Make no bones about it, had Bias gone to any team except the Celtics this sentencing scheme never would have become law in 1986 or anytime soon thereafter.

And it all began with Red Auerbach’s draft trade.

It might be one of the greatest examples of The Law of Unintended Consequences.




2 Responses to “Absurd Drug Sentences: Thank You, Red Auerbach”

  1. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    Yes, the death of Len Bias changed everything. Just got picked up w/ the Boston Celtics I believe to overdose on crack the very next day. Then getting caught w/ Crack got you ten years, while the dexter going to Harvard gets picked up w/ some powder and gets probation. This was a long time coming. Caught w/ crack or coke, really they both can kill you. To send people to prison for crack possession but not powdered coke was not right. This will free up the overpopulated prisons and save the taxpayer money. About time….

  2. Sam The Sham says:

    Two things:

    1- It sounds like Tip O’Neil is the villain of your story, not Auerbach.

    2- How do you know about the drop in heroin and cocaine prices? I would have no clue about such things but you seem to have the pulse of the drug subculture. Personal experience?