From the penthouse of life, to less than the shack out back as a slave to addiction…is one perspective of Chris Herren’s amazing life story. You can hear it for yourself next week, in Sidney.
As the title of this column dictates, former NBA basketball player Chris Herren’s life story is one that’s bound to captivate…if it weren’t so frightening.
That is, how one young man could go from having the world in the palm of his hand, his dreams realized, only to see it go up in smoke, or through a needle into his arm before he knew it. Gone forever.
Except…it’s not actually gone forever. Just the part about basketball, alcohol, drugs, addiction, and in the end…the realization that the next drink or the next fix could cost him his family and his life.
The good news is he’s alive, now 40 and healthy in mind and body, and WILLING to share his captivation journey as a guest speaker appearing at Lehman High School this week, August 25th. Herren will appear through sponsorship, in part, by Wilson Health (Wilson Hospital), The United Way, Orthopedic Associates of Southwest Ohio, P.T. Rehabilitative Services, Shelby County Family and Children Services, the Realty 2000 Group, The Ohio Department of Health, and the Sidney Police Department.
A high school prodigy from Fall River, Massachusetts, Herren went on to presumed collegiate basketball stardom at Boston College in the fall of 1994. But in his first game he broke his wrist and was lost for the remainder of the season. Worse, within three months of his injury he failed a series of drug tests for marijuana and cocaine use and was kicked out of school.
He transferred west to Fresno State, where he hooked up with Coach Jerry Tarkanian, and after sitting out his transfer year he averaged 17 points a game as a sophomore in 1996 – an incredible 31 points per game in the final four games of the season. But his drug problems bit him once again, failing a drug test just days before the 1997 season. After sitting out a month for rehabilitation, he went on to finish his junior and senior seasons at Fresno and was drafted in the second round of the 1999 NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets.
But his NBA dream was short-lived. After playing 80 games for the Nuggets and the Boston Celtics he was released by the Celtics. Whereupon, he played for the next six seasons overseas, in Italy, Turkey, China, Germany and Iran. He played for the last time in 2006, because while he followed his basketball dream, he could not escape the narcotics nightmare that had followed him each step of the way.
That’s the frightening part of Chris Herren’s life. The captivating part is what he’s done since basketball.
Since 2008 he’s been totally clean and has written a book entitled Basketball Junkie, detailing his career and struggles on and off the court. Today he travels the country sharing his story of addiction and recovery with people, and adolescents, prone to taking the same familiar journey.
“Where I realized I had a problem at the beginning was when getting drug tested once a week became part of my daily life as an athlete,” he said by phone this week. “When I tried to stop, and couldn’t.”
His message now is directed on prevention as paramount to treatment of the addictive scenario.
“It’s important for people to realize that it can start with having a beer in the basement with your friends after a game,” he adds. “That’s what happened with me. The problem is today we talk about the consequences and the end too much, and about going down that road, instead of how we got on the road in the first place.
“To be honest, I’ve never met a kid that thinks he’s an addict. No one ever thinks they’re going to go that far and I don’t think we do enough in respect to addressing the source of the problem. What’s sad is when it get to the point of having to drink five or six beers just to feel like you belong…to be part of the gang. That’s just not normal.”
Through numerable low points of the addictive stage of his life, Herren points to one in particular.
“It’s when a counselor looked me in the eye and told me that I should get in my car and drive as far away from my wife and kids as possible – that they should remarry and start over. But realistically, it doesn’t get any lower than knowing that anytime you stick a needle in your arm you might die as a consequence. You have to understand that it’s like putting a gun to your head every day and playing Russian Roulette.”
Chris Herren’s message goes beyond the obvious trials of the low points of drug and alcohol addiction. Rather, he dwells on the fact of the positives values of life without drugs in the first place.
“Me telling my story is not going to make kids hear. They’ve heard that before. I don’t talk about what addiction has cost me. I don’t talk about what I’ve lost with basketball and drugs. I talk about what I’ve gained by being sober. I talk about the value of life, having your family, sound priorities, and a future.”
And you can hear him in person this Thursday, August 25th, at 7 pm at Lehman High School. In his words, to consider the possibilities of a life without addiction, a better start – and not the realization of a frightening outcome.