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Published: Wednesday, 2/29/2012

Ex-NBA star tells of drug devastation

Maumee students hear gritty details

BY GABRIELLE RUSSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Chris Herren speaks to an assembly at Maumee High School about how drug use cost him his basketball career and nearly broke up his family. Chris Herren speaks to an assembly at Maumee High School about how drug use cost him his basketball career and nearly broke up his family.
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In a thick Boston accent, ex-NBA player Chris Herren tells the story, in gritty detail, of how he lost his basketball career, his million-dollar contract, and in the end, almost his family.

He's spoken his autobiography many times before, as in last year's ESPN documentary Unguarded and at high schools across the country. For Herren, 36, talking about his drug addiction is about helping others find a voice.

"I get amazing gratitude. It's humbling. At times, it's heartbreaking, and at times, healing," Herren said last week to a group of reporters. "If I'm able to help, it's awesome. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't helped."

Herren gave an anti-drug message to about 800 Maumee High School students during the Feb. 22 event sponsored by Maumee DECA and the Maumee Substance Abuse Intervention League.

In 1994, Sports Illustrated published a full-page picture of Herren, a guard from Fall River, Mass., as part of a cover story that mentioned other future NBA stars Ray Allen and Allen Iverson.

The message: Local kid stays close to home to play for Boston College. During his freshman year there, a friend offered him cocaine for the first time, and thus began a longtime addiction.

"I'm telling you right now from the bottom of my heart when I looked at that first line of cocaine, I said, 'I'm going to do this once and I will never do it again,'" Herren told the Maumee students. "I had no idea that one line of cocaine was going to take 14 years to stop."

He reflected on a moment, right before his college basketball career started, when his Boston coach ordered him to attend an assembly where an ex-NFL player spoke to college athletes about his drug addiction.

"I laughed and I joked and I could care less what this man was saying," Herren said. "And in my career, I've played at Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden. McDonald's All-American; Rolling Stone magazine. Sports Illustrated, 60 Minutes, two books, a reality show, a documentary. The thing I remember most about my athletic career was in 1994 when I wasted an opportunity to listen … "

Within four months, he failed three drug tests, and Boston College revoked his scholarship. Fresno State basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian offered him a spot on his roster, the second chance Herren needed to eventually get drafted into the NBA.

In his first NBA season, teammates including Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess watched over him on road trips and cut out the partying themselves.

"Guys, for the first time in my life, said to me, 'We know you have a drug problem. What we're going to do is baby-sit you. We're going to treat you like our little brother because this window of opportunity is small and we're going to make sure you take full advantage of it,' " Herren said.

But for most of his career, the star basketball player couldn't play without his drug dealer nearby.

Herren heard his name called out for the first time over the loudspeakers in TD Garden, his home turf, after being traded to the Celtics in 2000.

Yet as the scoreboard ticked off the minutes before the game started, Herren didn't practice with his teammates. Dressed in full warm-ups, he headed outside in the rain to wait for his drug dealer while fans streamed into the arena.

Two minutes before the game started, he swallowed his Oxycontin and hurried back inside to play.

Herren told the Maumee students of his spiral. The details are graphic: overdoses, thoughts of suicide, criminal charges, and discovering heroin while he played in Bologna, Italy.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of Herren's story is how his drug use affected his children. At one point, Herren got high daily in the parking lot of a Dunkin' Donuts. He said he waited 10 minutes and then bought donuts for his children so he could "walk back into my house like everything was OK."

One time, overcome with guilt after he failed to show up at the airport to pick up his family because his drug paranoia was so bad, Herren said, "I said to myself, 'I'm going homeless. I'm never going to contact my kids again. I'm tired of breaking their heart. I'm tired of dragging them through the mud,' "

But eventually, with rehab and the kindness of loved ones and strangers, Herren got clean.

"I hit my knees and I started praying. I started asking God for help. The day I hit my knees was Aug. 1 , 2008, that's my sobriety date," Herren said.

Since then, he has started his own nonprofit organization to help addicts who cannot afford help. He also runs Hoops Dreams to train basketball players.

The father of three is still married to the woman he's known since sixth-grade in Fall River and lives in Portsmouth, R.I.

During his speech, Herren told Maumee students who were concerned about their friends' drug problems to confront them directly or warn their parents.

"If you can get out in front of one kid, you've made a huge impact in this world," Herren said.



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