Former NBA player Herren tells story of addiction
BY PAUL JOHNSON For Sun-Times Media August 27, 2012 9:46PM
Former NBA player Chris Herren speaks about his struggles and the dangers of addiction during a talk Monday at Benedictine University. | Corey R. Minkanic~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 28, 2012 7:38PM
This wasn’t supposed to happen to a kid like Chris Herren.
A legendary basketball player who grew up in a family that was well off in Falls River, Mass., he was destined for greatness. He was a McDonald’s All-American in 1994 and was headed to Boston College the next year. It was a foregone conclusion that he would be a star.
But Herren never did achieve the greatness that was laid out in front of him due to substance abuse. He spoke about his rise and fall in front of a few hundred spectators, including new Batavia boys basketball coach Jim Nazos and Benet boys basketball coach Gene Heidkamp, at Benedictine University on Monday.
Herren’s presentation follows a number of other events designed to spotlight the heroin problem in the Naperville area.
Now clean for four years, Herren’s mission is to make sure that kids know that no matter what your background is, anybody can fall into the grip of substance abuse, and that there is a way out of it.
“There’s a million reasons why (I do this),” Herren said. “I think one of the main reasons is that I know what it’s like to look back and say, I had a chance. The reality is that no one is exempt from falling victim to this. I wasn’t supposed to fall into that category as a heroin addict, never mind all of the accolades I had going on as a basketball player. My teammates had dads who were lawyers, doctors, all of it, and seven of us became heroin addicts.”
Despite his struggles with addiction, Herren wound up being a star point guard at Fresno State and a second-round NBA draft pick, even fulfilling his dream of playing for the Boston Celtics for a brief time. But the promise of his stellar high school career was never fully realized.
After getting clean in 2008, Herren has turned into a mentor and motivational speaker. He released a memoir, “Basketball Junkie,” and was the subject of the ESPN documentary “Unguarded” in 2011.
Though Herren travels the country 20 days a month to speak about his journey, he says it is still hard to get up and bare his soul at times.
“It’s totally difficult,” Herren said. “I do it so often, but certain days it catches me more than others. There are days where I’m on the brink of breaking down talking about it. 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 bonds with his audiences with brutal honesty, which is a part of his presentation whether speaking to high school kids, inmates or professional athletes — three groups of people he has spoken to in the past week alone. He is speaking to the Chicago Bears Friday.
“I think when kids walk away from this, they’re like, wow,” Herren said. “There was no sugar in that story.”
People often feel sorry for him, but for Herren, every day sober is another chance to get it right, and another chance to help people recover.
as he has.
“People sometimes look at me with great empathy and say, ‘You poor thing. You have to live with this for the rest of your life,’” Herren said. “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.”