July 14, 2020
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Former NBA player Chris Herren, who threw away his dream career to drug addiction, told Kenyon students that he had to learn to put others before himself to get clean.
He suggested that the audience nearly filling Rosse Hall on Dec. 1 keep that advice in mind. “Do you have a little brother or sister that looks up to you?” he said. “Think about them. It’s about self-esteem and self-worth. How do you want them to see you?”
Herren, who has traveled America telling his story for the last five years, realized his boyhood wish of playing for the Boston Celtics in his home state, only to end up outside the arena one night to buy OxyContin painkillers before a game. He spent his rookie season with the Denver Nuggets and was on the Celtics’ roster for 25 games during the 2000-2001 season before being released.
State champion basketball runs were part of the identity of the working class town of Fall River, Massachusetts, where Herren was a legend on the Durfee High School team. He was a central figure in the book Fall River Dreams about the program, and he told his story in a memoir, Basketball Junkie, and was the subject of an ESPN documentary in the popular 30 for 30 series.
Recruited by many top-tier Division I programs, including by Kentucky and its legendary coach Rick Pitino, the 6-foot-2 point guard chose Boston College. Upon his arrival at Boston, he had been written about in Sports Illustrated and had been named the Gatorade player of the year in 1994. In his first and only semester at the school, he tried cocaine in a dorm room with two other student-athletes. Just four months after his arrival, he was expelled for failing three drug tests.
“My dad was a politician; my mom worked in the corporate world. I thought I’d be fine. I thought I could do what I wanted,” Herren said in the speech co-sponsored by the Athletics Department and the Student Lectureships organization.
Herren ended up at Fresno State, and then Denver drafted him in 1999 in the second round. The Nuggets traded him a year later to Boston.
After the Celtics cut ties, he took his talent to Italy and the Fortitudo Bologna team, but when training camp in the mountains for 10 days called, Herren walked away from a half-million dollar contract. He said he couldn’t be away from OxyContin that long. “I thought I needed it (the drug). I thought this would help take away the pain. Truth is, it just hurt me more.”
Herren and his family, including two children, returned to his hometown, and he continued his drug use, this time with heroin. One day, he overdosed and crashed his car around a utility pole. When paramedics revived him, they said he had been clinically dead for 30 seconds.
Herren sees the near-death experience as a blessing. Not long after that, he got help from former NBA player Chris Mullin, the St. John’s men’s coach, who arranged for his friend to stay at a rehabilitation center.
Herren got leave from the center to see his wife give birth to his third child. What should have been a joyous day ended badly when he left the hospital to buy drugs.
When he came home, his children and wife said they didn’t want him around anymore. “You broke my heart a million times. This is the last time you break our children’s,” Herren recalled of the message from his wife.
Immediately, he returned to the rehabilitation center, and he hasn’t used drugs or alcohol since 2008.
He hopes to inspire others to change their lives for the better. “Don’t focus on my story, focus on yours,” he said.