Chris Herren was a college basketball player on the brink of NBA fame. He was drafted to the Denver Nuggets in 1999 and went on to play for the Boston Celtics in 2000. But substance abuse would be the downfall of an otherwise promising athletic career.
“I grabbed a dollar bill. I banged a line of cocaine and walked right out of the dorm room,” said Herren, as he recalled his first time doing hard drugs at Boston College. “I had no idea that it was going to take me 14 years to drop that dollar bill.”
The former point guard recently returned to the court not to play ball but to speak openly to an audience of several hundred at Benedictine University about his drug habits.
“I think it’s important for people to know, it can happen to anybody,” he added. “Not only that but it’s never too late, you can dig yourself out.”
Herren takes that message around the country, speaking to students, parents, and even other professional athletes.
“People often look at me with empathy and say ‘Oh, you poor thing. You’re going to have to live with that the rest of your life,” said Herren. “I was a poor thing four or five years ago. Today, I’m the furthest thing from that. I’ve been given a blessing, a second chance.
“I welled up with tears a couple of times,” said Schaumburge resident Rick Lundquist in reaction to Herren’s presentation. “You thought every time the story was over, he’d reach the bottom, he didn’t.”
“Once he started talking, I honestly was touched,” said Anna Savio, a student at Benedictine. “I can’t believe he went through so much and pulled through. After that many downfalls, truly amazing, how he turned out.”
“I think it was smart that he reminded these kids that it starts even from alcohol and marijuana that kids think is ok but that’s how it all starts,” said Susan Garon, a Naperville resident.
“It really gives you a glimpse behind the curtain of someone struggling with addiction,” said Mark McHorney, the Director of Athletics at the BU. “I care for all of our student athletes and want them to be safe at all times and hopefully this message reached them.”
Herren also reaches readers through his memoir “Basketball Junkie,” in which he describes his journey to sobriety.
“I wanted a very in-depth detailed version of what a drug addict goes through and what a family goes through,” he said. “There was a time in my life where I thought everything i done with my wife, my kids, myself, that I couldn’t get passed [it]. And you can get passed. With faith and 12 steps and meetings, you can get through it.”
Four alcohol and drug-free years later and counting, Herren continues to be a motivational speaker and mentor for others despite how difficult it may be sometimes.
“There are days where I’m on the brink of breaking down talking about it,” he said. “I believe that once I do not get like that anymore, I will stop doing it. When i become callous to my own story and callous to speaking to people about this topic, I’ll walk away. I won’t even do it anymore.”
Herren also shares his story in “Unguarded”, a part of ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series.
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