Does the name Chris Herren ring a bell?
If you're an NBA fan or watch a lot of ESPN it should. If you aren't into that kind of thing you need to hear about Chris Herren.
Herren, a McDonald's All-American out of high school and second round pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, will share his story of drug addiction Wednesday, Oct. 17 at Kiehle Auditorium on the campus of U of M, Crookston at 7 p.m. and everyone is invited to attend to hear this heartbreaking, yet inspirational story. The presentation by Herren will highlight Alcohol Awareness Week on the Crookston campus.
"I hope they're horrified and want to change," Herren said in a recent interview with the Times when asked what people should take away when they hear of his experiences. "I hope if there is someone in the audience struggling from addiction they'll want to get help. If there's someone in the audience with a loved one that's battling addiction I hope they extend their hand and try to help them."
Herren is the subject of the Emmy Award-nominated ESPN Films documentary "Unguarded," directed by Jonathan Hock.
In the Times' interview with Herren he pointed out that 25 million people suffer from addiction and only two million get help.
"That means 23 million are on their own and from that are 50 million broken hearts of family and friends," Herren explained. "With those types of numbers should come outrage."
His story is unique in that he was an NBA player, but Herren was just one of the millions that suffer from drug addiction.
He was drafted in 1999 by the Denver Nuggets in the second round. He went on to play for the Boston Celtics before pushing everything aside, including his wife and children, for drugs and alcohol. Today, he has been sober for more than four years and he is spreading the word about his experiences and the devastating effects of drug addiction.
"It's extremely important for people to understand the power of addiction," Herren said. "To see a former professional athlete with everything going for him and later homeless with a pregnant wife and two kids. I came out of the tunnel for the Boston Celtics and a year later I was broke. To see the devastation addiction can bring but the hope that recovery can bring as well."
When Herren shares his story, though, calling it "a talk" or "a speech" isn't correct. It's simply his story and, by sharing his story, he hopes others learn from his mistakes.
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"It's not my style to tell them to do anything," he said. "[People] get talked to and directed to enough. I'm not there to point my finger and tell them how to do it. I'm there to tell them they are much more valuable than drinking and smoking pot. I'm there to tell them there's a person inside them that's worth a different life."
Herren tells it like it is and says becoming a professional athlete is not everything in the world.
"Some people put way too much emphasis on success in sports," he said. "I recently talked to the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. We put all this energy into this one dream and for what? The average NBA career is 3 years. We put our kids through all this to become something, for what? To be released from a team at age 25? Forget about any dream of playing pro sports until you become a pro at being you. Become the best person you can possibly be, and then go on and achieve whatever you want to achieve."
Herren was a highly touted player coming out of Durfee High School in Fall River, Mass., which is about an hour drive from the Boston Fleet Center, where he would later play with the Celtics. Out of high school he went to Boston College, but was kicked out after testing positive for cocaine after playing in just one game. He was then given a second chance by Jerry Tarkanian at Fresno State where he excelled, but continued his drug use.
"That means the world to me," Herren said of the second chance he received from Fresno State. "It means more to me today than it did back then. Then it was an opportunity to keep playing. Today it's much more about the people out there and the moments I had out there. Fresno is as good as it gets for me. I had a huge background even at that time. Those people never once turned their back on me."
In the NBA, Herren played one season with the Nuggets, 45 games, before being traded to the Celtics, which is where the story starts turning down a dark, long road. Herren got deeper in drugs, including playing in games while high on drugs, and played in just 25 games before the Celtics released him. He went overseas and played in numerous countries, while sinking even deeper and deeper into addiction.
"Hustling on street corners in Tehran, Iran is no joke," Herren said.
In between the Nuggets and Celtics in 2000 Herren tried oxycodone and became hooked. In fact, as he made his debut with the Celtics with his family and friends in the stands he missed pregame warmups because he was outside the arena in his full uniform in the pouring rain waiting for his drug dealer to arrive.
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"Boston had no idea what they were getting," Herren said. "I was a 23-year-old kid strung out on oxy."
Then there's the time he was found by two homeless guys in an alley passed out. The two men woke him up and all three went to a liquor store and got drunk, Herren contemplated disappearing and abandoning his wife and children.
How did friends and family members not know how bad his addiction was?
"Money hides a lot," said Herren. "I didn't have a sense what the bottom was. You don't have a sense what hardcore drug addiction is until you run out of money and you see all the hearts you have to break to get it. My profession of playing basketball hid that. But eventually it all comes out one way or another."
Herren's story has several rock bottom moments, including using heroine before his mother's funeral, where you wouldn't think he could sink even lower.
"Every day is rock bottom in that world, he explained. "There's no good days. From the outside looking in there's many moments where you'd say 'this has to be the time he turns it around.'"
You'll hear one point in Herren's story where it all changes, though.
"I had been in the treatment center for 30 days and my wife was ready to give birth to our third child," he explained. "I went home against the treatment center's advice and two hours after the birth of our child I was using. I went back to see my wife at the hospital and she told me 'you can't be here.' On my way back to the treatment center I passed out on the side of the road. I got back to the treatment center and a counselor there said you should pick up the phone and tell your wife you'll never contact her again. Have her tell your children their father died in a car accident. You're better off dead to them. You're a no good junkie who doesn't deserve a family. I haven't been high since I heard those words, 4 years and 3 months."
How grateful is Herren that he has his wife and three children?
"Words can't describe that. Words would sell it short," he exclaimed. "You can't put anything on that. Most moms, most wives would've walked away from it. And she didn't and I'm grateful for that, obviously. My sorry is staying sober one day at a time."
Page 4 of 5 - So, Herren was this highly touted basketball player out of high school with millions of dollars waiting to be made and the basketball world in the palm of his hand, he must feel some regrets today about not living up to his potential?
"I couldn't care less," he said. "That doesn't even have one ounce of bearing on me. I thought about what I could've been when I was getting high. Today I am grateful for what I reached. Content? How could I not be? What did I throw away? I still have my wife, my family, I'm still over 4 years sober. I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life. Did I not reach my potential as a pro athlete? No doubt."
"Nobody wants to torture themselves," Herren said during the interview with the Times. "I was once asked what would you do if someone came into your house, tied you down, stuck needle in you, poured vodka down your throat, robbed from your kids and stole from your wife? What would you do? I said 'I'd kill him.' And that's what you are doing when you're an addict."
Even with all the money Herren made playing in the NBA and professional basketball overseas when he decided he needed help he didn't have the money to pay for treatment.
Insert two-time Olympic Gold medalist and hall of famer Chris Mullin, who helped Herren a great deal in his road to recovery and inspired him to start an organization to help other drug addicts get treatment.
"My organization came from sitting there in a hospital listening to a nurse call treatment centers but being turned away because I didn't have the insurance or money to afford it," Herren explained. "Chris Mullin said forget that I'll help you out. If it wasn't for him I'd be dead. The Herren Project raises money to place people in treatment centers who don't have resources."
There's also Project Purple which breaks the stigma of addiction, brings awareness to the dangers of substance abuse and sheds light on effective treatment practices. It was developed when Herren spoke at a high school in 2011 and in the front row were six students wearing purple shirts. At the end of his talk a girl in a purple shirt stood up to speak saying, "Thank you Mr. Herren for validating what we do. We are the sober students of this high school and each year we take a pledge to not use drugs or alcohol." As she talked, snickering and giggling could be heard by other students.
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Herren spoke up and said, "Shame on you all." He was inspired by the courage of the girl and from that point on has supported her commitment to stay drug free.