February 05, 2020
Prevention Starts With All: The Chris Herren Story
A searing assembly that in his hopes, will make one student in the audience challenge himself or herself feel better, former Celtic and motivational speaker Chris Herren gave an unvarnished account of his addiction and recovery. “Today’s an opportunity to self-reflect – a chance to challenge yourself to feel better,” he said.
Herren was a high school basketball standout from Fall River, Massachusetts, so successful that he had a sports writer trail him and his team for a season. “I thought I was the coolest kid in the country,” he said. Of the 15 kids on his high school team, the sons of doctors and attorneys, seven became heroin addicts, which started with underage drinking and smoking.
A dream come true, he played ball for Boston College and was introduced to cocaine through some acquaintances in his dorm room. That experience followed him, and he began using oxycontin and other drugs and was forced to acknowledge his drug problem at a press conference. Given a second chance with Fresno State, he was a second-round draft pick for the Nuggets in 1999. The team helped with his sobriety by not partying on the road for the season.
And yet in another stroke of good fortune, he was traded to the Boston Celtics, which only accelerated his drug use. He led a secret life and told his wife that he would stay after practice but instead head to Fall River to connect with his dealer. Twenty minutes before playing the second game with the Celtics, he stood on the corner in his sweatpants, waiting for his dealer to deliver oxycontin because he couldn’t play the game while straight. “I did everything to keep the lie going, including selling my kids’ x-boxes or vacuum cleaners to pawn money for drugs,” he said. He played in Bologna, Italy for a stint after being released from the Celtics and drove around the city looking to score and bought heroin. In 2008, he returned to Fall River, shot heroin, overdosed, and crashed his vehicle. “Homeboy, you’ve been dead for thirty seconds,” the paramedics told him. After completing intensive rehabilitation programs, Herren has been alcohol and drug-free since August 1, 2008
Herren believes that in talking to students about drugs and alcohol, too much attention is paid to the ‘worst’ day when people should be paying attention to the ‘first’ day — a student’s first encounter with drugs and alcohol, in his case stealing his alcoholic dad’s Miller Lites and sneaking behind his house to drink them with a buddy.
“To me, that’s the scariest thing about addiction, that no one knows who has it yet,” he said, surveying the audience. He shared that one of the saddest things he contends with is the follow-up emails from students who have attended his assemblies concerned for their friends who are using. “They tell me about your struggle. If they had the courage, they would say, ‘We’re worried. We feel bad for you. You’re not the kid we grew up with. We love your mom and dad, and they have no idea who you are,’” he said.
With his thick, old-school Boston area accent, Herren silenced the crowd for 60 minutes, talking with his broad arms crossed like he was coaching a team. Understanding that some in his audience may be cynical of another drug talk, he acknowledged that he was that kid in the audience, too. He shared stories of speaking at other schools and telling other kids’ struggles with alcoholic parents, cutting, accidental overdoses, and abusing prescription drugs.
“Kids in here who can go to prom and dance and never need it [drugs and alcohol] are my heroes. Think about yourself on a Friday night and ask, ‘Why, man? Why do I have to do this [drink or vape marijuana]?’ This is no longer my story. It’s your story. It’s about the kid you are and the kid you’re becoming.“
Heartbreaking and humane, Herren embraced audience members in big bear hugs after he spoke. After posting about the event on social media, an alum reached out to say about the time when Herren had spoken at KO previously, “There were always great speakers at KO, but Herren was a standout. It was an incredibly powerful event. I’ll never forget it.”