How drug addiction stole player’s dream

CHRIS HERREN, a former Boston Celtic and college basketball phenom, spoke to local high school students about his fall from sports grace due to drug addiction. (Rivet Photo) Startling Facts “Maine leads the nation in rate of long-term opiate prescriptions,” — Portland Press Herald headline, 2014. Maine deaths from heroin have increased from seven in 2011 to 57 in 2014, a dramatic and troubling trend. The number of arrests for heroin, which had been stable for several years, rose from 40 arrests in 2010 to 103 in 2013. 13.9% of Oxford County high school students self-reported being drunk or high while at school in the past 12 months (in 2015). Maine Drug Enforcement Agency handled 56 meth lab incidents in 2015.

CHRIS HERREN, a former Boston Celtic and college basketball phenom, spoke to local high school students about his fall from sports grace due to drug addiction. (Rivet Photo)
Startling Facts
“Maine leads the nation in rate of long-term opiate prescriptions,” — Portland Press Herald headline, 2014.
Maine deaths from heroin have increased from seven in 2011 to 57 in 2014, a dramatic and troubling trend.
The number of arrests for heroin, which had been stable for several years, rose from 40 arrests in 2010 to 103 in 2013.
13.9% of Oxford County high school students self-reported being drunk or high while at school in the past 12 months (in 2015).
Maine Drug Enforcement Agency handled 56 meth lab incidents in 2015.

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — Chris Herren had his dream squarely in his own hands.

A phenom at Durfee High School in Fall River, Mass. where he scored over 2,000 points, Herren was highly-recruited by some of college basketball’s elite programs as one of the Top 15 players in the country.

He was expected to be a sure-fire Top 5 or Top 10 NBA draft pick.

Instead, he became a drug addict.

His life spiraled out of control from using prescription meds and heroin, ultimately costing him his promising basketball career and nearly losing his family, as well as his life.

“I am not your typical speaker. I will tell you my nightmare story I have lived,” Herren said.

Today, Chris Herren is sober (seven years now) and runs a basketball player development company, Hoop Dreams and has trained some of the top basketball prospects in New England.

He also has another mission. Herren tells his personal story of self-destruction and redemption as a national speaker.

“I openly share my story in hopes of reaching just one person and making a difference in their life,”

Herren hoped his story would open the eyes of about 1,600 impressionable students from both Fryeburg Academy and Kennett High School Tuesday morning regarding the dangers of drug and alcohol use.

Before Herren spoke, students watched a short video, which followed the rise and fall of a rising sports star.

Herren had the chance to play for some of the most heralded college basketball programs, but decided to “stay local” and play for Boston College.

“Two weeks on campus, I return to my dorm room and there is my roommate and two girls I’ve never seen before ready to do lines of cocaine,” Herren recalled.

They asked if he wanted to try some.

“No, thank you,” Herren said.

“Nothing will happen,” they reassured him.

At the age of 18, Herren opened the door to what became a very slippery slope when he snorted his first line of cocaine.

His stay at BC was short. He failed a drug test, and was out of the basketball program.

Jerry Tarkanian reached out to Herren and offered him a second chance — as a member of the Fresno State team.

“I had a sensational sophomore year,” Herren recalled. “But, I was living a double life — playing basketball by day, partying at night. I was told I would be a first-round draft pick if I just behaved.”

He didn’t.

In November 1997, Herren failed another drug test. He announced on national television, “I am a drug addict.”

He spent 28 days in a rehab center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I listened to people tell their stories, and my attitude was they were pathetic losers,” he said.

Because of his drug history, Herren’s stock crashed in the NBA draft. He was, however, selected in the second round by the Denver Nuggets. Veteran players Nick Van Exel and Antonio McDyess attempted to take the troubled rookie under their wing.

“They told me there would be rules. There would be no drinking. For a whole year, they took care of me,” Herren said. “It was the healthiest year of my life.”

He would, however, stumble.

An old friend introduced him to painkiller Oxycontin.

“I immediately got hooked. I had no idea the power of it,” he said. “I had to have it every day. It became a physical addiction.”

What should have been the crowning moment for Herren became a “death sentence,” according to his brother.

Herren realized a lifetime dream when he was traded from the Nuggets to his hometown Boston Celtics.

While Herren now played for the team he grew up idolizing, he was a phone call away from hooking up with his drug dealers.

“I played well, but my life was a lie. No one knew about my addiction,” he said.

He recalled a day when he made several calls to his dealer as Celtic players warmed up for the upcoming game. In the rain, he left the Boston Garden, went out onto a street corner in his warm-ups, and waited for his dealer to drop off his pills.

A knee injury resulted in the Celtics moving on from Herren. He was released and later signed on with a team in Italy. With no known source to score Oxycontin, Herren moved on to heroin.

His life nearly came to an end when the car he was driving struck a utility pole. Inside the vehicle, police found empty heroin packets and Herren slumped over the steering wheel. A needle was still in his arm.

“I was told later by police that I had died for 30 seconds and brought back to life,” he said. “I felt the best option would be to walk out of the ER and commit suicide. I couldn’t care less about myself.”

His wife would later give Herren an ultimatum — go back into treatment or never come back again.

Chris Herren spent nearly a full year away from his family and sought the treatment he needed to turn his life around.

Tuesday, he hoped his story and his words might turn a local teen’s life around.

What are your dreams?

As Chris Herren scanned all the young faces inside Wadsworth Arena, he remembered similar assemblies he attended during his youthful days.

He sat, but didn’t listen.

He wasn’t going to be “that guy.” After all, what is the harm in drinking a few beers or smoking a little weed on a Friday or Saturday night?

“I have a responsibility of sharing my story with over a million high school kids. I truly believe in my heart that it makes a difference,” he said. “We have gone horribly wrong in the way we present addiction to you kids. I think we want to show you and talk to you about the worst day and not the first day. We want to talk about where it ends, not where it begins. We all start by smoking weed once, out in the woods where the cops won’t find us. We all start off by playing drinking game. That’s the first page out of every addict’s story.”

Five years ago when Herren first started to speak on the subject, he thought the focus was simply drugs and alcohol until he learned a valuable lesson.

“I saw 2,000 kids sitting in the bleachers. I made me real nervous. I walked into the hallway and prayed, ‘Please God, if I can help one kid it is worth it.’ After I told my story, we did Q&A. I didn’t see any hands, so I ended it. Relieved. This little girl at the top of the bleachers put her hand up,” he said.

Kids laughed at her. Some gestured for her to put her hand down.

“She had more courage to raise her hand before 2,000 than I ever had. She told me that at her high school, it wasn’t worth asking questions because at the end of the day no one cares,” he said. “I felt I failed.”

A couple months later, Herren received a letter from the girl. She told her story. Her father was a drunk, and had been out of work for four years. The last four years, due to her dad’s unemployment, she had to wear the same clothes. Kids made fun of her and posted photos on Instagram.

Those elements pushed the girl to become a “cutter.”

She told Herren that because of his talk, she confronted the mean-spirited kids in her school. For the first time in her life, she had stood her ground. She even showed them the scars on her arms and legs.

“Since that day, those kids have not taken another photo of her,” he said. “She thanked me for making a difference in her life.”

She sent Herren e-mails every 30 days about her progress. The conversations have been ongoing for five years (Herren told local students he would gladly speak with anyone via e-mail if they are troubled and need help, he also encouraged students to seek out an adult, be it a teacher or someone they trust — “they will help you,” he said).

“That little girl’s e-mails mean more to me than anything I accomplished in basketball,” he said. “It’s the reason I do this, and it’s not always about drugs and alcohol. It’s about struggles. It breaks my heart that the cultures at high schools are about drinking and doing drugs.”

Herren spoke about another set of girls who wore purple t-shirts. He asked what the shirts signified. The four girls told him that as eighth graders they made a pact to not drink alcohol or smoke during their high school days.

She told Herren that his talk “validated” what she and her three friends had decided to do — “We are the sober kids here…We kept our promise and are proud of it. Sometimes, our friends make fun of us.” When some kids laughed as Herren gave the girl a high five, he confronted them saying what they could possibly find as funny not doing drugs or alcohol?

“Explain me the humor?” he asked. “At 35, my whole talk changed. I wish I never had to change myself. I wish on a Friday or Saturday night, I was happy with who I was, and didn’t need to drink or smoke. I wish I could have been happy with who I was.”

The girl’s example led to Herren’s Project Purple, which now involves some 4,000 students.

Herren commended students who could have fun on the weekends without drugs and alcohol, and are comfortable with who they are.

Herren also talked about letting down loved ones because of drug and alcohol use. He impressed upon students never underestimate the power of setting an example for younger siblings. He cited a case that while an older brother and sister were smoking marijuana, a younger sibling went upstairs, took some pills from a medicine cabinet, and later was found dead in his room from an overdose.

“I go to bed every night and thank God for helping me stay sober for the past seven and a half years,” he said. “I always say a prayer for my little daughter, Samantha. I pray that in two years when she is in high school and her friends are driving — a car full of them — she gives me a high five before she leaves and tells me, ‘I am pretty enough that I don’t need to get wasted to talk to a boy. I don’t need to get drunk to stand in a basement. I am okay being me.’ I pray that my kids have that because I didn’t.”

Chris Herren has a new dream — it’s about making a difference in someone else’s life.

The program was supported by Bridgton Hospital, Memorial Hospital, Wells Fargo Advisors, BSC Cleaning Services, Bernstein Shur, Northway Bank, Fryeburg Rotary Club, Harriman Associates, Mt. Washington Valley Preservation Association and Milford Flooring.

 

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