Just when you felt you’d heard the worst of Chris Herren’s spiral into the abyss of substance and alcohol abuse, there was more. Sleeping aside a Dumpster outside a 7-Eleven. Being awoken by a cop after crashing his car, a syringe still stuck in his arm. Making the ill-advised decision to leave a rehab center for the birth of his child, then going on another bender. Considering saving his family further heartbreak and embarrassment by taking his life.
Herren, the former McDonald’s All-American at Durfee High School in Fall River, Mass., is not hesitant to admit he’s made his share of mistakes. A lot of them. But now, after more than five years of sobriety, Herren is driven by the desire to help others be aware of – and avoid – the same pitfalls.
Speaking at Greater Lowell Technical High School on Tuesday night, Herren bared his soul over an emotional, heart-wrenching two hours. He had it all and let it slip away. He was injured in his first game at Boston College and never played again for the school, losing his scholarship after three failed drug tests. He got a second chance at Fresno State, but couldn’t stay clean there either, opting to enter the NBA Draft and being selected by the Denver Nuggets in the second round.
Even being traded to his hometown Boston Celtics couldn’t help him shake his demons: on the night he made his first start for the Celtics he was running down Causeway Street in full warmups meeting his dealer, who was stuck in traffic.
It was his escalation from marijuana to Oxycontin that led him down his path of destruction.
“One $20 yellow pill turned into a $25,000-a-month drug habit,” he said. “I walked into the locker room each night a full-blown junkie.”
After the NBA, he played pro ball in seven countries, each time satiating his need for narcotics. “Wherever I played, I found where to get drugs.”
Only when his counselor challenged him to call his wife and promise to sever his relationship with his family did he turn the corner. He never made the call, instead falling to his knees in his room and praying for the guidance to make it through.
Today, Herren speaks at hundreds of engagements across the country, from middle-school students to professional athletes, urging them to avoid the temptation that alcohol and drugs presents.
“Be comfortable with who you are,” Herren said. “When you aren’t – when you want to be someone else – that’s where you look for that escape.”
There is no preaching, no sugar-coating. Herren is frank and brutally honest.
“If I can make a difference for one kid in the audience tonight, it’ll be worth it,” Herren said.