Chris Herren, former NBA star turned author and public speaker, visited Worcester State University on Monday, September 19 to tell the story of the rise, the fall, and the recovery and rebirth of his life and career.
Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr., whose office was the co-sponsor for the event, introduced Herren and spoke of the difficulties of the current opioid epidemic in New England as well as the pressure and heartbreak that it has caused.
“The worst part of my job, without exception, is talking to people in pain,” he said. “I’ve talked to too many parents who lost their kids because they didn’t know [their kids] had a problem.”
President Barry M. Maloney also offered opening remarks for the event, and noted that the opiate epidemic seems to have touched everyone to a certain degree as usage has skyrocketed during the past few years.
“Your university administrators and certainly parents can tell you not to take that first hit and to stay away from drugs,” he said, “but we know, however, that many young people will abuse alcohol and will use other substances, no matter what we say.”
Herren knows this better than anyone. As a child of an alcoholic parent, the Fall River native’s introduction to addiction was painful yet formative—he began drinking his father’s beer when he was just 13 years old, a fact that Herren was eager to stress.
“The way we present addiction, we always focus on the worst day, and forget the first day,” he said. “We want to show you pictures and tell stories about what happened to drug addicts and the happy ending, rather than talking about the beginning.”
Herren rose to national fame during his 1990-1994 tenure on the Durfee High School basketball team, and finished his high school career with a total of 2,073 points—the most points ever scored by an individual at the school to this day. He was scouted by colleges and universities across the country, such as Duke University and University of Kentucky, but ultimately chose to go to Boston College. Herren was subsequently featured in Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone, and the media attention become more and more hyped with his seemingly inevitable success.
However, the Herren hype train derailed when the basketball star failed a drug test due to his cocaine and marijuana use. Things got worse when Herren broke his wrist in his first game of the season, and failed yet another drug test. Three months later he was kicked off the team and expelled from BC.
“At eighteen years old I was publically labeled a drug addict. Kentucky and Duke were no longer trying to recruit me,” he said, “and for the next six months, I sat on my parents couch, depressed, waiting for a second chance.”
From that point on, Herren’s downward spiral into addiction continued, as he went from team to team, state to state, and even overseas. He moved from cocaine to Oxycodone, and then turned to heroin. Time and time again, he said, he was given second chances by coaches and friends who believed in him, but his dependence on drugs was too powerful to overcome. At age 28, Herren became what he called a “full-blown street junkie.” He overdosed twice during the next four years, and ultimately became estranged from his wife and children.
However, with the birth of his third son and the gentle but firm nudging of his support network, Herren was finally able to focus on his recovery and has been sober since August 2008.
“I thank God for the bad days, the beauty of recovery is that you can find the blessing in the right moment, I’ve been given countless blessings and thousands of chances, but the greatest gift I’ve been able to give, for eight years straight, is that I’ve been the same son, the same friend, and the same husband, which is all [my family and friends] ever wanted,” he said.
In his parting message, Herren challenged those who partook in drug use, whether it was with hardcore drugs or the occasional marijuana joint, to question why they were taking those substances in the first place. Many of those who use drugs and alcohol, he said, do so because they are uncomfortable and unhappy with themselves, and that is where the real problem lies.
“I find it sad when being you is not enough anymore, that you need an escape,” he said. “How sad that we chase death, just for that moment?”
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