After Drugs Drove Him From The NBA, Chris Herren Makes Off-Court Comeback

By Bill Littlefield, October 11, 2014

Part of any athlete’s story is statistics. When Chris Herren, who was a great high school basketball player in Fall River, Mass. during the early 1990s, speaks to youngsters he trots out a heck of a stat. He talks about how, at one point while he was in the NBA, he was spending upwards of $20,000 a month on Oxycontin, heroin and various other narcotics.

He lays that on the kids in part because during his glory days as the Massachusetts High School Player of the Year and as a McDonald’s All-American, most of them hadn’t been born. They don’t know he played part of a season at Boston College until he was suspended for drug use, and then at Fresno State, where he also tested positive, and then for the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics until drugs shut down those opportunities and relegated him to brief, addled stints with teams in China, Turkey and elsewhere.

“I don’t think the kids know who I am anyway,” Herren said. “I don’t think that my basketball career was ever that successful for them to know who I am. They know me more for what I do today than what I did playing basketball. And I think that just comes from trust, transparency and honesty. And I think that’s what the kids respond to.” And when Chris Herren speaks to groups of kids and to older athletes as well, which he has been doing for several years now under the auspices of the Herren Project, they do respond. One of the first places he appeared after achieving sobriety was South Dartmouth, Mass., at the invitation of his former high school teammate, Jeff Caron, who’s now the athletic director for the Dartmouth Public Schools.

Then, as now, Herren’s message included an honest account of his own self-destructive behavior. “I was a drinker,” Herren said. “I smoked pot, but I always said, ‘That’s where it would begin and end.’ Cocaine … I was scared to death, and I said, ‘I’ll do it once,’ and that one try lasted 14 years.”

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Addiction destroyed Chris Herren’s basketball career. That downfall is the basis for his talks, including this September appearance at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Boston. (Jesse Costa/Only A Game)