Six years ago, Lenny Bias was the National Basketball Association's No. 1 draft choice. He might have been part of the best front line in NBA history.

But after returning home from New York, acquaintances introduced him to a substance they said would make him the best pro basketball player. He took it, and in the "snap of a finger" Bias was dead from a drug overdose."He made the wrong choice. We don't want you to make the wrong choice. We want you to make better choices and make a better life," Bob Lanier, 1992 inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame, told about 900 Granite Park Junior High School students Wednesday.

Lanier, national chairman of the NBA "Stay in School" program; Frank Layden, Utah Jazz president; and Mark Eaton, Utah Jazz captain, kicked off the national "Stay in School" program in Salt Lake City, the host city for the NBA All-Star game.

"We won't save all of you," Lanier said. But, Lanier, who wears a size 22 shoe, told the students there are opportunities for every one of them in the NBA - even if they don't have big feet.

In his message of NBA pride, Lanier said the "P" stands for positive mental attitude; the "R" for respect; the "I" represents intelligent choices; the "D" stands for dreaming dreams and setting goals; and the "E" represents effort in education.

Although 80 percent of Utah students remain in school - a nationwide high - Layden said he believes they need to take advantage of all opportunities and achieve better academics, attitude and attendance.

The Jazz weren't respected when they first came to Utah, Layden said. Soon, they gained self-respect followed by public respect. "We see the rewards when people began to respect us," he said. Students who fail to gain respect from their peers fail, he added.

When Jerome, a student whom Lanier selected from the audience, was asked how he could earn the respect of classmate Dana, Jerome suggested he could help her with classwork or loan her a pen. After the program, Jerome said he felt impressed to change his attitude and said he didn't want to beat up others again.

Eaton told students he was terrible at athletics in junior high and high school and didn't set goals until after graduation, when he decided to attend trade school. There he devoted his efforts to becoming a great auto mechanic.

Eaton was irritated that people constantly said he should play basketball. But one man, who bugged him for two months to play basketball, changed his life. For the next two years, Eaton decided to give the sport a try and worked part-time in the morning, went to basketball practice in the afternoon, then attended night school at a junior college.

Soon every college in the nation wanted him, but after deciding to attend UCLA, Eaton spent two years on the bench. Fortunately, after college he was given a chance to play for the Jazz, where he's been for the past 10 years.

"It's because I worked hard and was never satisfied. Don't be afraid to dream, to take a chance. Set some goals. Be a dreamer," Eaton said.

Speaking of effort and education, Lanier told students that however far they go in life, it won't be because of what they're given. "Work hard and achieve it for yourself. Get a good job and make your own money."

Lanier said he tells his 17- and 19-year-old daughters not to depend on a man for money but to earn it for themselves.

Middle school and junior high students throughout seven districts in the Wasatch Front will participate in the program, which culminates with the nationally televised NBA All-Star "Stay in School" program Feb. 20, 1993.

Schools will receive a certain number of tickets to the program based on enrollment, and students will be given tickets based on improvements in attitude, attendance and achievement. The program will be broadcast by NBC, TNT, Nickelodeon and BET networks to a potential 28 million households.

Participating students will be asked to sign a "Stay in School" contract, enabling them to participate in the program. The contract also qualifies them for the JAM.

Students from the 53 participating schools in Utah will compete in conceptualizing and scripting a television public-service announcement for "Stay in School." The NBA will produce the winning spot at that school for national broadcast.

Jeff Price, NBA community relations manager, said the NBA got involved with "Stay in School," now in its fourth year, because the organization has a national commitment to education and wants to give something back to the community. NBA players are used because students recognize and respect them as sports heroes.

Lanier and other Jazz members will appear at Mueller Park Junior High School at 1:45 p.m. Thursday and at other junior highs during the next two months.