More than one million people have heard the powerful story of former NBA player Chris Herren and his 14-year-long battle with addiction. Another 300 people listened to his story Thursday night.
Recovering addicts, parents, and students filled the seats at the Collins Center as Herren, a Fall River native, walked them through his journey playing basketball, and his struggle with the deadly disease that began when he was 18 years old, eventually putting an end to his basketball career.
Four weeks into his career at Boston College, Herren had his first experience with drugs as a freshman in his dorm room.
“I had no idea at 18 years old when I promised myself just one time, that one line (of cocaine) would take 14 years to walk away from,” Herren said.
Six months later, following a number of failed drug tests and an expulsion from Boston College, Herren received a second chance to play competitive basketball. Just 19, Herren jumped on a plane and flew over 3,000 miles to Fresno, California — a place he had never been.
However his addiction was part of his baggage on that flight, and advanced with him well after he was drafted into the NBA as the 33rd pick for the Denver Nuggets in 1999. Though he completed his rookie season on the team sober, calling it “the best season (he) ever had playing basketball,” that sobriety would not last.
In 1999, after being approached by a childhood friend, Herren tried Oxycontin for the first time.
“I took the pill, and went back into my house and finished watching cartoons with my son, having no idea that decision had just changed my life forever,” Herren said. “I had no idea that 40 milligram pill would turn to 1600 milligrams a day. I had no idea that $20 dollars would turn to a $2,500 a month oxy habit.”
Though he knew he was sick, Herren received the news he was going to be the newest member of his hometown team: the Boston Celtics.
“Since I was about four I wanted to be a Celtic. I dreamed of that moment. I pretended to be a Celtic in my driveway,” Herren recalled. “What should have been a dream come true, I knew in my heart, was a nightmare beginning.”
Herren’s addiction masked his excitement. Feeding his addiction became his top priority. The first phone call he made after receiving the biggest news of his life was to that childhood friend to get his hands on more pills.
His addiction washed away Herren’s time on the Celtics. He spent his days satisfying his need for more pills. He would get so high he couldn’t remember the milestone moments in his career, like his name being announced to the crowd when he started his first game.
When Herren took the opportunity to play for a European team in Italy, a new opportunity he couldn’t turn down was presented: Heroin.
“At 24-years-old I had never seen a needle except at a doctor’s office,” he said. “At 24-years-old I had never seen heroin.”
Herren started his new daily routine each morning by shooting up heroin. Following a near-death overdose, Herren continued to chase what he called “the feeling of death” through heroin for the next seven years.
When he could no longer afford that addiction, he turned to alcohol. As a street drunk, he would bounce checks and collect cans to scrape up the money to buy two pints of vodka a day.
“The hardest part about my addiction is for the last 10 years I went to bed every single night, and for the last 10 years the last thought on my mind before I fell asleep was what a complete failure I had been as a father,” he said.
Herren would mark Aug. 1, 2008 as his sobriety date. That was the day he was told by his counselor he had no business being a dad, and that his children would never live as long as he was in their lives. That was the day he went to his room at the rehabilitation facility he was staying at, fell to his knees crying, and prayed to God for help.
Over the last eight years, Herren has dedicated his life to traveling across the world and sharing his story.
“I’ve had the responsibility of walking into auditoriums like this and presenting to a million kids, and I truly believe in my heart it’s made a difference to some of them,” Herren said.
Many in attendance Thursday night thanked him for sharing his story. As people of all ages listened to Herren guide them through his battle, they sat with undivided attention as he shared his lowest points and how he overcame the disease that controlled him for so long.
Joe Reitano, 46, previously suffered an addiction and is now in recovery. Like Herren, addiction was something that has always been with Reitano, though he didn’t know it at first.
“His story is phenomenal,” he said. “It needs to be heard by every adolescent.”