BY CRAIG SAWICKI // APRIL 12, 2012 //
“One bad choice leads to another.”
That was the main message and warning from former NBA player Chris Herren, who spoke at Curry College last night about how his past drug and alcohol abuse cost him the career of his dreams.
Herren was born and raised in Fall River, Mass. As a star basketball player at Durfee High School, he scored more than 2,000 points for his career and was named a McDonald’s All-American. He earned a scholarship to Boston College and had big dreams: namely, to play in the NBA. And while he realized that dream, it ended quickly and spun into a nightmare.
At BC, Herren said his partying largely amounted to drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. A guest speaker came to campus to talk about the dangers of substance abuse, and Herren’s coach made him attend. Herren said he sat in the top, left corner of the gymnasium and paid no attention.
After the speaker finished, Herren said he went to a friend’s room and tried cocaine for the first time. He was only going to try it once and only once, he said. But one time turned into another, and Herren ended up doing coke from age 18 to 32. It took him 14 years to kick the habit, he said.
He repeatedly failed drug tests as a freshman on the BC basketball team, and the college eventually kicked him out. But a few days later, the head basketball coach at Fresno State University called Herren and offered him a second chance.
“My sophomore year was my best year of basketball I ever played,” said Herren.
Part of the reason was Herren was clean. He said he didn’t do any drugs and passed all of his drug tests. But during his junior season, Herren said his ego got the best of him. He started going to strip clubs and bars and returned to his bad habits of drinking, smoking and doing coke.
The coaching staff was aware and warned him that a failed drug test carried “consequences.” Herren didn’t listen, though. The night before a big game against UMass-Amherst, Herren drank and did coke. Even before he hit the court, he said he was out in the parking lot in a friend’s car drinking Budweisers and snorting lines of cocaine.
“That game against UMass was one of the best games I played,” he said. But Herren refused to submit to a drug test after the game, because he knew he would test positive. The next day, Herren announced to the world through a press conference that he was addicted to cocaine and was going to get help.
“I called my mom for 28 days while in rehab and said, ‘I will never be like these people. Call the athletic director and get me out of here!’ Herren said. “And all she said was ‘I love you’ and to ‘suck it up.’”
Herren cleaned up and was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the 1999 NBA Draft. It was at a party back in Fall River that a childhood friend of Herren’s introduced him to a new drug: oxycontin.
“Twenty dollars turned into $25,000 a month for these pills,” Herren said.
Five days before reporting to training camp, Herren said he sobered up so he wouldn’t fail any drug tests. All of the players and coaches in Denver knew about his past drug abuse, so the team had strict rules for him. “They looked out for me like I was a family member.”
But it didn’t matter. He was still an addict.
“Before I jumped on the plane [for games], I didn’t call my mother, not my father, not my wife, but my drug dealer to make sure he would meet me when I got off the plane,” Herren said.
He played in 45 games his rookie season, averaging just 3 points and 2.5 assists per game, but injured his wrist toward the end of the season. Denver opted not to resign him.
The next season, the Boston Celtics gave Herren another chance. He got to play in his hometown in front of all his friends and family. But Herren’s oxycontin abuse got worse.
“During warm ups of the first game I started, I meet my drug dealer outside of the Garden to get my pills,” he said. “I went back in two minutes before starting lineups were called, and I didn’t even remember them calling my name because I was on drugs.”
He played 25 games for the Celtics, staring seven of them, but they too opted not to keep him around.
At the age of 24, Herren said he shot up heroine for the first time while playing in a European league game. Things went from bad to worse.
His basketball career essentially over, Herren repeatedly overdosed. He got into car accidents and eventually found his way back into rehab. He was married and the father of two, all while managing an addiction to heroin. Herren was in rehab yet again when his wife went into labor. The people at the rehab center wanted him to stay, but he insisted on leaving.
“I was high for little Chris’s birth,” said Herren. “I was high for Samantha’s birth. I want to be sober for this one.”
He said he has stayed sober from that point on, and now travels to schools and colleges throughout the country telling his story so that others don’t go through the same things he did.
At Curry, Herren ended his story was a powerful message. “All of those kids I shot up with never said they started with heroine or coke. So, you tell me if marijuana and alcohol is a gateway drug.”