Former KBA player is­sues a wake-up call

The Globe - - OPINION - By Mike Prince

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 or www. hat­boro-hor­­ver­sa­tion.

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