When you’re life hits rock bottom, you can either give up or pull yourself up and make something out of your life.
Former college basketball star and NBA draftee Chris Herren was faced with such a dilemma back in 2008 when his life had spiraled out of control due to a long substance abuse battle.
Many fail in such circumstances, but the few who survive and decide enough if enough can certainly become an inspiration for others and a living example that life doesn’t have to be a helpless venture, no matter how bad it gets.
Herren is truly an example of perseverance, persistence and an epitome of one who has made a spectacular comeback.
Herren will tell his story to the audience on Thursday, April 19 when the annual First Shot Sneaker Ball event is held at the new MTSU University Center. First Shot Basketball is a faith-based non-profit organization founded by Andy Herzer, a former Blue Raider basketball assistant coach.
“We’re really excited to have Chris be a part of this event,” Herzer said. “We’ve had some unbelievable speakers over the years, and I think Chris is definitely going to be a home run because of the great and inspiring story he has to tell.”
Herren runs an organization called Hoops Dreams with Chris that is based in Portsmouth, R.I. While focusing on the game of basketball, he and his counselors are also mentors to the students about their ability on and off the court.
He also founded the Herren Project, which sends addicts who can’t afford help to treatment centers. In fact, he estimates the Herren Project sends an addict to a treatment facility every five days.
He speaks all over the country and talks very candidly about his drug addiction and how it affected his life.
Herren played collegiately at Boston College originally in 1994, but was kicked off the squad after failing more than one drug test. He transferred to Fresno State, coached then by Jerry Tarkanian. He also failed a drug test there, but went through rehabilitation and rejoined the team in 1998.
Herren averaged 15 points and five assists in 86 games at Fresno State and was drafted by the Denver Nuggets early in the second round in the NBA Draft. He also played a season with the Boston Celtics before being released. He played overseas through 2006.
“I was pretty highly-recruited athlete out of high school. I was a McDonald’s All-American. I was first introduced to cocaine when I was at Boston College,” Herren said. “It was like a month or twice-a-month deal, but I couldn’t deal with it. I eventually had to go to Fresno State.
“I’d say my addiction got much worse when I was traded to the Celtics. I had never heard of OxyContin before. I paid $20 for a yellow pill and a high. It turned into $25,000 a week.”
Herren points to one event that changed his life forever. He had been in a car wreck and was actually dead before being revived.
“I think when you’re an addict that every day is rock bottom,” Herren said. “But if there was one moment of clarity, it was when I was in a rehab facility after I was passed out on the side of that road. I had been there 28 days, and my wife was pregnant with our third child, and I wanted to be there.
“My counselor advised me against it, but I left anyway. I was there for the birth. I got high that night. My wife told me to leave and never come back. When I returned to the rehab facility, my counselor sat me down and told me that I needed to disappear, that my kids needed to be told that I had died in a car wreck. He said it was time for them to live again. I’ve been sober ever since.”
Herren reaches out to kids all over the nation, speaking about 250 times a year. He estimates he has now reached more than 500,000 in various ways.
“It’s hard being a kid right now,” Herren said. “It’s an everyday battle. I just try to tell them my story. If they can see where I come from, it can give them hope.”
Herren penned a book, “Basketball Junkie,” in 2001 and his story about his addiction was vividly depicted in the ESPN documentary “Unguarded.”
‘“Unguarded’ was right on,” Herren said as far as its accuracy. “Today, I don’t think there is a treatment center anywhere that they don’t show that film.”