Fallen basketball star rebounds from life of drug abuse

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Former Boston Celtic Chris Herren is now a motivational speaker who speaks to children about alcohol and drug abuse. Submitted Former Boston Celtic Chris Herren is now a motivational speaker who speaks to children about alcohol and drug abuse. Submitted  Former Boston Celtic Chris Herron, 37, now makes a career of traveling

SOMERS POINT – Former NBA player Chris Herren’s road to recovery brought him to Jordan Road School Tuesday night Nov. 6, where he talked in blunt detail about the perils of drug abuse.

But it was an earlier road – a seemingly endless spiral of addiction that squandered his talent and nearly ruined his life – that captivated the crowd of students, parents and staff members. 

“My mission is to get in front of kids and prevent them from going down that path,” Herren said.

He said he asks kids to say to themselves, “What is it about me that I can’t be me without booze or drugs?”

“It took me until I was 32 years old to figure it out,” he said. “If I can spare one kid in this room from going down the road that I’ve gone down, then I’ve done my job, then I’ve reached my goal.”

Herren told a harrowing story of escalating drug use that saw him go from the high of living his dream as a starting point guard for the Boston Celtics to the low of public disgrace, multiple stints in rehab, incarceration, and nearly losing his family.

“I know what it’s like to say, ‘This lifestyle will never happen to me.’ I know what it’s like to say, ‘I’m being recruited by every major college in the country – the Dukes, the Floridas, the Kentuckys. My future is bright. All I do is drink and smoke, and I’ll never take it a step further.’”

A motivational speaker for athletes of all ages, Herren launched Hoop Dreams, a developmental company that mentors young basketball players, in 2009.

The former McDonald's high school all-American from Fall River, Mass., has been featured in Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone. He is the co-author of "Basketball Junkie: A memoir," and the subject of the Emmy Award-nominated documentary "Unguarded.”

He started using cocaine after suffering a season-ending injury at Boston College. He failed a drug test and transferred to Fresno State, where he excelled on the court despite again testing positive for drugs and spending a stint in rehab. He was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1999 but spent most of his time on the court high on the pain-relieving drug Oxycontin.

He was traded to the Celtics a year later.

Herren told the story of hunting down his drug dealer in a traffic jam outside the arena minutes before making his debut as the starting point guard for the Celtics.

He was cut by the Celtics seven months later, and embarked on an odyssey of jumping from team to team across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. His basketball career ended shortly after he started using heroin in 2004. That year, he was arrested in Portsmouth, R.I., after he was found unconscious at a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through with 18 packets containing heroin residue.

Herren finally got help in 2008 from NBA Hall of Famer Chris Mullin, who is a recovering alcoholic.

Herren warned students that it can happen to anyone – even in the most affluent families and regardless of race – to the sons and daughters of people who enable their children. He said that a recent book about his high school basketball team called “Fall River Dreams” written by Bill Reynolds chronicles a hard-partying suburban lifestyle that produced tragic results.

“Out of the 15 kids, seven of us became heroin addicts,” he said. “We lived in big houses and had summer homes and drove fancy cars. But we had the parents who let us drink in the basement.”

He said the parents would tell them to leave the keys upstairs and go downstairs and do their thing – as long as they didn’t leave the house it was OK.

“They say that when the frontal lobe of your brain develops, if you can keep kids away from alcohol between the ages of 16 and 18, your chances of not becoming a drug addict dramatically increases,” Herren said.

“Unfortunately, most kids go through that rite of passage that we allow, that foolish rite of passage that boys will be boys, girls will be girls. Well, guess what? Kids get stuck in that rite of passage. Seven of my friends did; four of them are still stuck.”

He warned about the danger of parents putting too much pressure on children to excel at sports at an early age.

“I think parents are crazy when it comes to sports. We push our kids to become … what? Broke by the age of 29, divorced by the age of 30.”

Herren spends much of his time on the road these days, doing about 250 public speaking engagements across the country.

“You accomplish things one day at a time. I stay sober one day at a time, and that’s it,” he said. “There’s never an end point to this for me. Every day you wake up and start over, and that’s how I approach my life today.”


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