When I was growing up in the early 1990's, I was addicted to basketball. I believed with all my heart that I would one day play Division 1 basketball and go on to a lengthy career in the NBA. Growing just one inch (from 6' to 6'1") after the sixth grade destroyed that dream. However, I was able to watch a local basketball star, Chris Herren from Fall River's Durfee High School, live that dream.
Chris Herren is the best high school basketball player that I have ever seen play for a Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) team (the prep schools in New England boast some amazing talent on a yearly basis but for all intents and purposes, they are no different from a Division 1 college team that is able to recruit).
Herren was an electric talent, torching opponents for over 2,000 points in his four-year career at Durfee. He was a member of the BABC, one of the most prestigious AAU programs in the country, and at the end of his high school career he was selected to play in the McDonald's All-American Game, a rare feat for a kid from a public high school in Massachusetts. To top it all off Bill Reynolds, a sports writer from the Providence Journal, followed Chris through his junior and senior years at Durfee and chronicled his accounts in the book Fall River Dreams, which is kind of like Friday Night Lights for high school hoops.
After high school, Herren turned down offers from Kentucky and Syracuse to attend Boston College. Chris lasted one game at BC due to an injury suffered in the team's opening game against Cal Poly (I was in attendance) and a developing drug problem that began his fall from grace that ended his basketball career and nearly stole his life and family.
The end of his BC career led to new beginnings at Fresno State University under legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian. Chris again fought substance abuse issues but he did enough good things in his time at Fresno State to be drafted with the 33rd pick of the 1999 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets (yes, I have two of his rookie cards). After one year in Denver, Herren was traded to the Celtics but injuries, and his growing drug problem, led to the end of a once promising NBA career.
Following the end of his time with the Celtics, Herren went on to play professionally in Italy, China, Turkey, Iran, and Poland.
At each stop the drug problems grew worse and he was arrested several times on drug charges after his playing career ended. It was the beginning of a journey that nearly took everything from him but also gave him an opportunity to share his problems with drug addiction in order to help people learn from his mistakes.
Chris did find sobriety and collaborated with Reynolds on a second book, Basketball Junkie: A Memoir that detailed his rise to professional basketball, his crashing fall into addiction, and his fight to stay sober. ESPN, as a part of its excellent short film series, produced Unguarded which gave viewers a unique look into Herren's life on and off the court and provided an opportunity to see him in his new life as a motivational speaker and coaching young players at his Rhode Island basketball academy.
Unguarded is currently available through Comcast On Demand. It is well worth the hour, even if you're not a sports fan. Like so many Americans who struggle with addiction, Chris is in a fight to live a sober lifestyle. His story is different in that he was on top of the world, playing in the NBA, and then it all came crashing down on him but he has persevered to recover, reclaim his family, and now spends his days helping others.
I looked up to Chris Herren as an adolescent because he was a basketball star. I look up to him now because of what he has done with his life. I am proud of Herren and I am proud to still consider him one of my role models.