We had the privilege of listening to Mr. Chris Herren speak to us about his journey through life and his struggles with alcohol and drug addiction. His story about overcoming his problems and his close-calls with death are incredible and should be kept in mind while advancing in our high school careers.
Chris Herren, born September 27, 1975 in Fall River, Massachusetts, was a truly outstanding basketball player. He scored over 2,000 points in his high school career at Durfee High School and was named a McDonald’s All American in 1994. Upon accepting a scholarship to play basketball at Boston College, he suffered a wrist injury his first year and was sidelined. The injury was followed by numerous failed drug tests for marijuana and cocaine, and Herren was expelled from the team and the university. He was then given another chance by coach Jerry Tarkanian in Fresno, California and finished the rest of his college career at Fresno State where he averaged 17.5 points per game in his first year. After failing yet another drug test in October of 1997, Chris was put in a rehabilitation center for 28 days. After returning, he finished his college career with 15.1 PPG and 5.1 APG.
His dreams of being a professional Basketball player came to fruition when he was drafted 33rd overall in the 1999 NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets. After playing for the Nuggets for one year, he averaged 5.8 PPG and 4 APG. In an ESPN 30 for 30 titled “Unguarded,” Herren revealed that Veteran Nugget players Nick Van Exel and Antonio McDyess kept Herren on track during his time in Denver: “There is going to be no drinking, there is going to be no smoking, when we go on road trip, you’re going to report in to us, and we’re going to watch every move you make.” On his first day back in the practice facility, coach Dan Issel informed him that he’d been traded to his hometown Boston Celtics. This was both a blessing and a curse, as he would be able to play for the team he’d been rooting for his whole life, but he was inserted into a situation where he was close to his buddies and knew exactly where to get drugs. While his drug problem was calmer in Denver, it became more serious in Boston.
When he became addicted to Oxycontin during his time in Boston, his lifelong dream of playing for his hometown team turned into a nightmare. He started to live a life of deception, lying to his wife about where he’d be. “I would call my wife and say ‘I’m going to stay after and get some jumpers up,’ and then I’d gun it to Fall River to go meet some guy, and then I’d fly back to Waltham and act like I’d just gotten out of practice,” said Herren in “Unguarded.” At this point in Herren’s career, he needed the drugs to be able to function.
After Herren suffered a knee injury with the Celtics, he was sidelined and then released by them. He then signed a contract to play overseas Basketball in Italy. After that, he played in Japan, China, Turkey, Poland, and Iran. Playing international basketball was when his heroin addiction started. At one point, he was making $22,000 a month, and spending $12,000 of it on drugs alone (Unguarded, 2011). After He came back to Fresno, he suffered a huge derailment from his career and stopped playing. He had overdosed a few times and had been put in Modesto County Jail following a heroin injection. He eventually entered recovery in a rehab facility and has been sober ever since (9 years).
The talk that Mr. Herren gave specifically to us was moving for me, as I’m sure it was for many of you. There were many points that were very heartfelt and relatable. For example, Mr. Herren’s main goal in speaking to schools like ours is not that he can make a significant impact on the entire crowd, but just one person. One person out of 2,000 means that he has done his job. He shared many stories about the people he has reached throughout his tours around the country. One story was about the only girl in the auditorium who raised her hand to ask a question, who was given the courage to share her story with the people that picked on her. Also, he shared about boy whom he referred to as “Music Marcus,” who walked up to Mr. Herren in the middle of his speech, with tears in his eyes, and gave him a hug. A sad note to that story was when Mr. Herren returned to the school and was informed by the principal that Marcus had killed himself.
The next point that I want to emphasize is a direct quote from something he said in his speech. He had told us that he’d spoken to many professional sports teams like the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, and more. He then proceeded to let us know that he was disappointed in our school. The reason that he gave is something I still think about. He said, “In talking to all these big guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Steph Curry and Lebron James, there is one thing that they all had in common. They sat in the front row. Now, I look around this auditorium and I see over one thousand people here, and not one of them is sitting in this front row.” That was very moving for me, and I’m not sure as to whether that row was purposefully vacant or vacant by choice, but it stuck itself in my brain. What I took away from that is if you really want to get better at something, whether it is a sport or a hobby or even an addiction, you must be willing to sit at the front lines and be an advocate for your own change.
Chris Herren’s talk with the Mount Saint Joseph Community was very insightful and hopefully inspired many to become an advocate for their own change. We thank Mr. Herren for his time here at Saint Joe and hope to have him back in the future.