Chris Herren Rumors

Chris Herren made it from the coastal city of Fall River to his home team, the Boston Celtics. His path was paved with stints in rehab as he struggled with escalating abuse of substances ranging from alcohol to cocaine, crystal meth and heroin. From the early promise chronicled in “Fall River Dreams” by Bill Reynolds, a look at Herren’s high school basketball team to “Basketball Junkie,” Herren’s 2011 memoir and the ESPN film “Unguarded,” Herren’s life has been well-documented. On Monday, he will share that story in Greenfield. The talk, free and open to the public, is scheduled for 4 p.m. in the Greenfield Community College dining commons, in the main building at 1 College Drive.
Chris Herren was about to make his second appearance as a CSN color commentator, working last night’s game against the Hawks. The Fall River native and former Celtic was asked if doing this kind of work on a more regular basis is something that interests him. “Hey, one day at a time, you know? That’s how it goes,” he said, breaking into a laugh with his questioner. The phrase is familiar for those who, like Herren, have gone to war with substance issues. And while all involved therein know the battle doesn’t end, the quick wit displayed by Herren will serve him well as he enters the broadcasting field. “It is something that obviously I’m intrigued by,” he said before going on the air with Mike Gorman and fellow special commentator Ainge. “What’s nice is it gives me a break from what I do on a daily basis addressing substance abuse. It kind of gives me another outlet and another avenue. So it’s great for myself, it’s great for my family and it’s great to be part of the Celtics again.”
Just as Beal doesn’t plan to get ahead of himself as it relates to money, he also doesn’t plan to arrive at George Mason University for his first official NBA practice with any preconceived notions about his role on the team. “I want to just come in and try to earn everything. I don’t want anything given to me. I want to earn everything and show these guys that I’m a hard worker and I’m a winner,” Beal said. “You know we have a young team, but we have a few vets as well and I just want to come in and try to set the tone and try to get this team back on a winning pace.”
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Legendary players such as Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar passed along tales of their exploits in the NBA, while another former player, Chris Herren, explained how his career was derailed because of a dependency on drugs. Beal had heard about Herren’s fall when Florida Coach Billy Donovan invited Herren to share his story with the team last season, but the message still resonated. “It’s a powerful story and it helps you actually realize how valuable life is,” Beal said, adding that the entire crash course was informative, especially after just signing a deal that will pay him $4.13 million this season. “I think the biggest thing I’m taking from this, how to handle your finances. Because you hear a lot about people possibly going bankrupt when they’re out of the NBA.”
Things have been tough for “R” lately. He had a bumpy ride as a child, and was raised by his grandmother. She’s 98 now, broke her hip, and her health is deteriorating. Doctors recently gave her only a few weeks to live. And with this news, and his world crumbling around him, “R” did something foolish. He said: “I relapsed.” “R” is a student at Oregon State, and first tried heroin after he turned 20. He can’t get the drug in Corvallis, so he drives to Portland to get high with some friends who have been doing it for years. After the recent relapse, his best friend, and main support through sobriety, got fed up and stopped talking to him. “I’ve been using since,” he said.
I watch the young children skate in circles. My 9-year-old is among them, with her friends, and I wave as they go past. Every few minutes, my cell phone lights up with a new message from “R,” who tells me that he was on his way Friday to score dope when he got hit over the head with Herren’s story. “R” was a heroin addict for three years. He said he quit June 4, 2011 and stayed clean. Before this week, I’d always imagined a heroin addict as filthy, jumpy, with a pair of shifty slits for eyes, making a buy under the bridge or on a corner. I’ve had it all wrong. As Herren said in the column, that’s the sad, desperate, drooling image of an addict in his final days. Plus, “R” tells me of heroin, “You have to know someone who sells it. It’s not on the street corners like in ‘The Wire.’ At least not in Oregon.”
I typed the last few sentences of my column about the recovery of former NBA player and heroin addict Chris Herren on Thursday while sitting at my kitchen table. I read it one final time, cleaning up a couple of clunky paragraphs. Then, I filed it and moved on. This is how it works. I don’t look back. I file. I’m done. It’s a strange feeling to dart toward the next column, asking “What’s next?” knowing that by the time the first column reaches you it’s faded behind me as I chase the next. Two days later, I’m standing against the rail at the roller-skating rink at Oaks Park, text messaging a 24-year-old heroin addict. And as my legs go numb, I realize that we never really know what’s next.
Lately, Herren’s been telling his story to anyone who will listen. He wrote the book. He’s doing daily radio interviews. He spoke at a sold-out YMCA even a couple of weeks ago in Massachusetts. This Sunday, Herren tries to “win the day” in Eugene. No doubt, Herren will tell the Oregon players about the day his third child was born. This was a joyous occasion. After his wife gave birth, the former NBA player brought his other two children in to meet their new little brother. He kissed his wife. He pulled his family close together. He had all he needed, he thought. “Then, I walked out of the hospital and went straight to the liquor store and found drugs that night,” Herren said. “I didn’t come home until the next morning. My wife took one look at me and knew.” He called her later and, through tears, told her that he wasn’t qualified to be her husband or a father. A day later, he decided it was time to get sober. And Herren has been sober since August 2008.
Herren spoke about his time playing basketball overseas, which included stops in Italy, China, Spain and Iran. It was in Italy where he developed his heroin habit, his introduction to the drug coming at the hands of a drug dealer he’d never met shooting a needle into his arm while Herren looked away. He once received a package from a friend in the states, ostensibly containing OxyContin, in an Iranian federal express building with grim-faced heavily armed guards inside. He, nevertheless, still signed for the package and quickly raced out to his car where he sped into a nearby alley and opened it. “I was tearing away the packing to get at the center and there was a story from the Boston Globe (about Herren),” he said. “There was a note attached and it said, ‘you need to come home and get yourself some help.’ The note wasn’t signed.” But it eventually took the Mullins, who paid for a six-month stay at a rehabilitation clinic, to start his road back to sobriety.
Herren was the subject of a recent ESPN documentary titled “Unguarded,” an unfettered look at Herren’s rise as a basketball star and fall into a life of drug and substance addiction that he could not crawl out of for more than a decade. Herren told his story to a group of Bangor Area High School students, their parents and also members of several Hazleton area basketball teams Monday night at the Bangor auditorium, one of several speeches Herren gives since regaining his sobriety. The speech was set up largely through the effort of Bangor boys basketball coach Bron Holland. “After being a McDonald’s High School All-American, I went to Boston College and my freshman year, the coach, Jim O’Brien, walked up to me and told me there was going to be an assembly at the school and a former player from the New York Giants was going to speak about substance abuse,” Herren told the packed auditorium. “I looked at him and told him there was no reason for me to attend. That had nothing to do with me.”
If you think Chris Herren was in high demand two decades ago when he was one of the most highly recruited high school basketball players in the country, check out what’s happening to the Durfee High grad these days. Things have gotten crazy — mostly in a good way — since ESPN first aired the Herren drug addiction/recovery documentary, “Unguarded.” Jonathan Hock’s film was so popular, ESPN aired it twice more, with the Penn State scandal bouncing a planned fourth airing. The film made even more public Herren’s collapse into and escape from the frightening world of alcohol and drug addiction, and it has left the Portsmouth, R.I., resident wishing there were more hours in the day. People, virtually all with good intentions, are coming at him from all angles to thank him, share their challenges and to ask for his time.
Other than those who ran the treatment center that helped Herren turn his life around, the only people mentioned in Unguarded who actually kept Herren from destroying himself were Antonio McDyess and Nick Van Exel, veterans on the Nuggets team that drafted the guard. During training camp, McDyess and Van Exel pulled Herren aside and told him that they knew all about his struggles with addiction, and that he wouldn’t be partying at all that season. Every night, he would be checking in with them, and when the Nuggets were on the road, he would be joining them for dinner instead of going out drinking. And it apparently worked. McDyess and Van Exel did what no coach, no family member, no friend, no mentor had been able to do for Herren: they held him accountable. When the Nuggets sent Herren to the Celtics, that support system was gone and Herren reverted.
Former Fall River and NBA star Chris Herren’s descent into a near-death dance with drugs tragically played out on the public stage — and now, so is his resurrection. The former Durfee High School hoop hero was at the AMC Loews Boston Common with his family and friends the other night for the premiere of a starkly honest new documentary on his rise, fall and rebirth. “Unguarded,” an hour-long flick directed by Jonathan Hock and co-produced by Kris Meyer — the duo behind last year’s acclaimed Luis Tiant film “The Lost Son of Havana” — is a powerful look into the self-destructive disaster Herren’s life became and how he rebounded. “It’s painful,” Herren said after the premiere. “That’s the life I had to live. If I look back with regret, guilt or shame, I couldn’t be here today.”
As the dark and riveting pages of his new memoir, “Basketball Junkie,” unfold, his final NBA days in Boston were nowhere near the bottom. As he chased heroin and crack cocaine in bus terminals and back alleys across failed pro stops in Turkey, Italy and Iran, he lost all his jobs, all his money and ended up dead for 30 seconds in the back of an ambulance. In this basketball culture, plenty of people love a good white guard, and his talent kept getting him opportunities. Eventually, he drained his wife’s bank accounts with a tens of thousands-a-month heroin addiction. He ended up back in his hometown, broke, life in freefall, shooting up with his own children fastened into car seats.
Heather and Chris were childhood sweethearts. She says the only way she ever could’ve stayed with him through those darkest years was because she had known him before basketball stardom. She knew the good heart, the gentle soul within him. When her own mother was dying, she asked Heather: Do you still have hope for him? She did, and she never left him. “She’s the hero of my story,” Chris Herren says. “The hero of our family’s story.” When Chris had returned to an in-treatment program in the Catskills of New York more than three years ago loaded, a counselor told him this: “Why don’t you do the only noble thing you’ve ever done in your life and get away from your kids? Do them a favor and get the [expletive] out of their lives. Because you’re like a ball and chain around their neck and they’ll be better off without you.”
He has few fond memories of his brief stint with the Celtics in 2000-01, which followed 45 games with Denver in 1999-2000. “With the Nuggets, I had a great experience,’’ he said. “I was around a lot of positive role models. When I was traded to the Celtics, I was surrounded by a lot of guys who were just young. “After my injury and diving into OxyContin, I was lost. I could really care less about who I was playing for; it was more important for me to get my daily fix of Oxy.’’
“After I overdosed and was arrested on June 4, 2008, I entered into a treatment center and my wife at the time was 8 months pregnant,’’ he said. “Against the advice of those at the treatment center saying I should just go home very briefly and see the birth of my child and come right back, I stayed for a couple of days, and I was getting high the next day. “And when I walked back to that substance-abuse center, this counselor told me to do the most courageous, admirable thing I ever did in my life — and that was to cut my wife and my kids loose, because I was the only thing that was negative around them. “That night, I contemplated whether that was the best decision, whether or not they would be better off without me. I laid in bed and I cried, and from that day forward, I have been blessed and fortunate never to have picked up a drink or a drug.’’
He was the hottest college coach in the country, he had NBA experience, both as an assistant coach and as a head coach with the Knicks, he had played at UMass and coached at Boston University, and at the time he seemed like the perfect guy to be the new Celtics coach. But here they were, just another young team going nowhere, in a league full of them. He was under tremendous pressure. He was Rick Pitino, one of the biggest names in basketball, and he was supposed to win. But by the time I got traded, I was happy for all the wrong reasons. I wasn’t happy because I was back home and had grown up idolizing the Celtics. I was happy because I was back home and I knew where to get drugs. I also had the money to buy them. It was a deadly combination.
A similar thing had happened four years earlier. I had passed out in a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through window at eight in the morning virtually around the corner from my house. I had been arrested, it had been all over the media, and it had ended my basketball career. I had come home from a CBA team in South Dakota, trying to get back to the NBA after several years of playing overseas, trying for one last shot, trying to salvage my career. But this was worse. I had no money. Basketball was over. I had no job. My two kids were older now, 9 and 7, old enough to know what was on the news. Old enough for their friends to know what was on the news. Heather was eight months pregnant.
I was dead for 30 seconds. That’s what the cop in Fall River told me. He said that two EMTs had brought me back to life. “Just shut the fuck up,” he said when I started to say something. “You were almost dead.” I was only a few blocks from where I had grown up, only a few blocks from B.M.C. Durfee High School, where there was a banner on the wall saying I was the highest scorer in Durfee history. I had gone off the street near the cemetery where Lizzie Borden was buried, Oak Grove. Maybe the worst thing was that I had just driven through Fall River for a couple of miles in a blackout, a ride I don’t remember to this day. When the EMTs found me there was a needle in my arm and a packet of heroin in the front seat.
Basketball Junkie, a newly released St. Martin’s Press book by Chris Herren with Bill Reynolds, tells of Herren’s arduous journey from prep start to drug dabbler to NBA player to addict. Though you can find out a lot about Basketball Junkie and Herren on the book’s Twitter and Facebook page, it’s really a must-read from cover to cover. And while we can’t post the whole book here—you can purchase it on Amazon—thanks to Chris and the good people at St. Martin’s Press, we’re able to post a sizable excerpt below. The book and this excerpt (which also appears in SLAM 149) will tell you where Chris has been and what he’s went through. Check back in next week for a Q+A and an update on what he’s up to now.—Ed.
Fall River native Chris Herren spent years battling addiction to cocaine, painkillers and heroin. Today, the former Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics NBA player is almost three years sober and spends much of his time spreading his story to high school and college students in hopes of preventing them from giving in to peer pressure and falling to addiction. Sponsored by the Varsity Athletes Against Substance Abuse (VAASA) and the Bristol and Warren Substance Abuse Task Force, Herren spoke to freshmen and sophomores at Mt. Hope High School on Thursday. Herren told the packed auditorium of his struggle with substance abuse for much of his basketball career, which caused him to be expelled from college and traded from team to team. “From 1999 to 2005, I really don’t remember playing sober,” Herren said. “I had no desire to practice, I just showed up for games.”