Former NBA player Chris Herren, author of “Confessions of a Basketball Junkie,” talks to Gloucester Catholic High School students May 20 about his struggles with addiction.
GLOUCESTER CITY — “Don’t ever change who you are; you’re perfect.”
These were the words of former NBA player Chris Herren, speaking to Gloucester Catholic High School students here on May 20. He urged students to be comfortable with themselves and never sacrifice who they are to fit in, a lesson he learned the hard way.
During the hour-long presentation, students and teachers sat in rapt attention as Herren told his story of early success, hitting rock bottom and rebounding.
Herren, 37, was a star player at Durfee High School in Fall River, Mass., where he finished his career with 2,073 points.
Turning down offers from such decorated basketball programs as the University of Kentucky and Duke University, Herren signed with Boston College and was highlighted in “Sports Illustrated” and “Rolling Stone.”
Herren admitted that in high school, he regularly drank alcohol and smoked pot, and in college his addictions caught up to him. In his first game he broke his wrist and, while sidelined, failed drug tests for marijuana and cocaine.
After being expelled from Boston College, he ended up at Fresno State, and in 1997, failed another drug test. After nearly a month at a rehab facility, he was back on the court.
In the 1999 NBA draft, Herren was selected in the second round, 33rd overall, by the Denver Nuggets. After one year with them, he was traded to his home state of Massachusetts in 2000 and suited up for the Boston Celtics.
Herren described his growing addiction to oxycontin, a $25,000/year vice, and also Percocet and vicodin.
His initial before-game oxycontin dose soon grew to before and after games. He recalled an incident in Boston shortly before game time, running on the streets in his warm-up uniform to find his drug dealer, who was stuck in traffic. After popping the pill, Herren made it back to the court with six minutes before game time.
In his time with the Celtics, Herren was charged with possession of heroin and driving under the influence with a revoked license.
After being released by the Celtics, he began playing overseas for teams in Italy, Poland and other countries, but his addiction continued.
Returning from overseas play, he began using crystal meth and in his hometown of Fall River, he overdosed on heroin while driving and crashed into a utility pole. He remembers waking up on the pavement, surrounded by passersby and a police officer. Blood ran down his arm, the heroin needle still stuck in his vein.
Herren at one point was homeless and suicidal, angry and depressed over squandering his basketball potential, and not being a good husband and father.
Herren eventually completed intensive rehabilitation programs and has been alcohol and drug-free since Aug. 1, 2008.
He wrote a book, “Basketball Junkie,” and in 2011 ESPN aired a documentary on Herren, “Unguarded.”
Herren has since dedicated his life to helping athletes and youth. “Hoop Dreams with Chris Herren,” a basketball player development company to mentor players on and off the court, began in 2009, and “The Herren Project,” www.theherrenproject.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing assistance to families affected by addiction, began in 2011. In 2012, the Herren Project started a national anti-substance abuse campaign, Project Purple, to encourage people of all ages to stand up to substance abuse.
In a question-and-answer period, Herren spoke on the role his wife played in his recovery. Today, he and his wife live with their four children in Rhode Island.
“She’s the hero of this story; I thank God for her everyday,” he said.
After being asked if he still keeps in contact with those individuals who sold him drugs, he responded in the negative, but said that “I’ve learned to love them, from a distance.”