Former KBA player issues a wake-up call
Back on June 4, 2008, former basketball star Chris Herren overdosed on heroin, drove into a utility pole and was declared dead for 30 seconds by paramedics. It was, for lack of a better term, his wake-up call.
It wasn’t the last time the former Massachusetts high school All-American and second-round kBA Draft pick used drugs, but it was the beginning of his road to rehabilitation.
kow, roughly 4½ years later, Herren, who is more than 1,600 days sober, continues to tell his story, hoping he can make a difference in people’s lives by helping them to avoid the same mistakes he made for 14 years of his life.
“People ask me if I’m tired of telling my story,” said Herren, speaking in front of roughly 1,000 people inside of Hatboro-Horsham High School’s auditorium on Tuesday night. “And yes, I say. I am. But if I can make a difference in just one person’s life, then I want to do it.”
Sponsored by HHoops, a youth basketball program, and the HatboroHorsham Educational Foundation EHHEFF, which is currently in its 25th year of existence, Herren spoke at the school district’s “Be A Part of the Conversation” forum, telling his story to students, parents and administration before hosting a nCA session for those in attendance.
The former kBA player, who grew up in Fall River, MA, spoke about his life which spiraled out of control due to drug addiction after getting involved with cocaine, Oxycontin and heroin.
“I know what it’s like to walk into auditoriums like this and listen to a man talk about drug abuse,” said Herren, who was drafted by the Denver kuggets in the second round of the 1999 kBA Draft. “I remember sitting in my seat saying, ‘This is great. It’s tough, but it doesn’t pertain to me. All I do is smoke and drink, leave me alone.’ I know what it’s like to sit in that seat and judge a man, saying that it would never happen to me.”
kow, Herren is the one doing the talking. Everything he thought wouldn’t happen to him did – and it happened to him worse than he could’ve ever imagined when he did KLs fiUsW OLQH RI FRFDLQH LQ KLs IUHsKPDQ year of college.
There was no sugar coating to his story. There were no excuses and there were no details omitted. He just told his story, from being on top of the world at 18, to hitting rock bottom nearly 14 years later.
Herren, 37, started talking to the SDFNHG DuGLWRULuP DERuW KLs fiUsW UuQLQ wLWK GUuJ usH. AIWHU GRLQJ KLs fiUsW line of cocaine in his dorm room, he would fail a drug test later that very day. Following two more failed drug tests, he was kicked out of Boston College and eventually transferred to Fresno State, where he got involved with Oxycontin after dealing with injuries.
After entering the kBA and playing with the kuggets for one year, Herren was traded to the Boston Celtics, giving Herren the opportunity to play for the team he loved – his hometown team – a dream of his since he was four years old. It would, however, turn out to be his downfall, as it would start another 10 years of drug use, eventually leading to excessive heroin use and an eventual overdose.
“This is an absolutely essential story for young people to know, because it can happen to anyone,” said Lou James, Hatboro-Horsham’s athletic di-
rector. “You’re looking at a top athlete who was brought down by bad choices, so it’s extremely important to teach our kids while they’re young that drugs can affect anyone. The turnout is fantastic and the HHEF has done a fantastic job putting this together.”
Herren was a 6-foot-2, 200-pound point guard who scored more than 2,000 points in his high school career – one which got him featured in a Sports Illustrated cover story. He averaged 15.1 points in college, while leading the nation in assists and steals. He was drafted 33rd overall by Denver and scored a career-high 18 points against the Dallas Mavericks as a Celtic during his shortlived NBA career.
But all of those numbers meant nothing to Chris, illustrating what his life – an almost secret one at that – turned to over the years while playing basketball overseas.
“, ERuJhW Py fiUsW 2[ycontin for $20,” Herren said. “I never knew that would turn into a $25,000 a month addiction. I never knew those 40 mg would turn into a 1600-mg-per-day addiction.
“I had no idea that at 18 years old, when I picked up WhDW GRllDU ELll WR GR Py fiUsW line of cocaine, and when I promised myself that it would be a one-time deal, it would be a 14-year nightmare. I had no idea that I wouldn’t put that dollar bill down until I had a wife and two kids 14 years later.”
Chris Herren was, as he called himself in the book he authored in 2011, a “basketball junkie.”
Now, the most important number for Herren is a date – Aug. 1, 2008 – the day which he was able to turn his life around. It’s the day which started Herren’s alcohol- and drug-free life, which he lives today.
“The biggest reason for me to have Chris (Herren) speak WRGDy sWDUWHG ZhHQ , fiUsW saw ‘Unguarded,’” HatboroHorsham principle Dennis Williams said. “I immediately started texting people, asking if they had seen it and said, ‘We need to get him in here, someway, somehow.’
“I think the nature of his story and how relatable it is to some of our kids’ stories – athletes or not – is just something our students needed to hear. The struggles he’s had and how he’s worked through them is a message they needed to hear. Just the mere fact that he is where he is now and how he’s overcome everything is a pretty big story for our kids.”
‘Unguarded,’ a documentary directed by Jonathan Hock, aired on Nov. 1, 2011 on ESPN as part of the network’s 30 for 30 series. Herren’s book, entitled Basketball Junkie: A Memoir, was co-written by Providence Journal columnist Bill Reynolds and was received with great praise.
Since completing intensive rehabilitation programs, Herren has not only been speaking in front of schools and sharing his story all around the country, but in 2009, he launched Hoop Dreams with Chris Herren, a development company to mentor players on and off the court.
More recently, Herren started ‘Project Purple,’ an initiative of The Herren 3URMHFW, D QRQ-SURfiW IRuQGDtion established to assist individuals and families struggling with addiction. Founded in 2011, Herren said his goal was to get treatment for those who are struggling with substance abuse, most notably those who are unable to afford to pay for rehabilitation.
In 2008, when Herren was broke and near the end of hLs URDG, IRUPHU fiYH-WLPH NBA All-Star Chris Mullin called Chris and offered to pay for his treatment, calling it his gift to him to get better.
“I want to be the Chris Mullin,” Herren said. “I want to be the guy who calls to help someone get into a substance-abuse program. I don’t want to be the Chris Mullin who played at St. John’s University. I aspire to be the Chris Mullin who gets people back to their families like he did for me.”
Herren may have needed the proverbial wake-up call to get to where he is today, but his goal on Tuesday night – as is the same with any presentation he gives – was to make sure that current students and young athletes never need that wake-up call to turn their lives around.
Before holding a Q&A with the audience, which saw Herren offer advice, including on how to deal with spouses and other family members with substanceabuse problems, the man who everyone came to see closed his presentation with one last message for the audience.
“I wish I liked myself enough and I wish I never felt like I had to change. In no way do I consider myself a role model,” Herren said. “We’re all in this together. I say ‘sorry’ to my kids every 24 hours. Those kids are my heroes. After everything I did, I’m four years sober and I’m living the dream.”
Herren currently lives with his wife, Heather, and their three children, Christopher, Samantha and Drew.
2Q :HGQHsGDy PRUQLQJ, Herren returned to HatboroHorsham for another presentation, strictly for students. Be A Part of the Conversation is the district’s drug and alcohol awareness program that encourages parents to talk with their children and learn the signs of abuse.
For more information, visit www.hhef.org or www. hatboro-horsham.org/conversation.