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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Former Celtics guard inspires at Nashua North with tales of recovering from drugs

You are perfect.

That’s the message former Celtics guard Chris Herren wanted to give freshmen students assembled at Nashua High School North on Wednesday, where he gave a gripping account of his life as a young basketball star, a winding descent through drug addiction, personal pain and eventual recovery. ...

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You are perfect.

That’s the message former Celtics guard Chris Herren wanted to give freshmen students assembled at Nashua High School North on Wednesday, where he gave a gripping account of his life as a young basketball star, a winding descent through drug addiction, personal pain and eventual recovery.

“I believe it’s necessary,” Herren said before his talk. “Most kids’ perception of a drug addict are the people downtown who look beat-up. They need to understand there’s Day 1 in this process. I started out in the woods with beer balls and kegs and smoking blunts before school. That’s how I started.

“I had no idea that the decisions I was making along the way would lead me to the life I lived.”

Herren’s habit led him from hero athlete to sleeping outdoors next to Dumpsters, abandoning his wife shortly after she gave birth to their third child to make a drug buy. Herren briefly attended Boston College after high school in Fall River, Mass. He went on to play for Fresno State in California.

He was the fourth pick in the second round of the NBA draft in 1999 and played for the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics. He also played overseas in Italy and other European countries.

The stories picked from that time painted a grim picture of his struggles as an addict – a life of cocaine, pills, and eventually heroin addiction and suicide attempts.

Herren, dressed in a suit and drug-free since Aug. 1, 2008, moved back and forth in the school’s gymnasium in front of about 1,300 students from Nashua North, Nashua South and Bishop Guertin high schools.

Herren said he wants kids to “find it within themselves to not find a need to put something in their body.”

“At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to. Kids ... feel that they need to even up the game by getting high and getting drunk. They’re not comfortable being themselves,” Herren said. “I challenge them in this talk to find within them it doesn’t make them prettier, tougher or cooler. All it does is suppress them.”

Herren lost his spot at BC after testing positive for cocaine. Fresno State gave him a second chance. Attempts by people there to help him stay away from drugs failed.

He talked about a 13-hour binge of drinking, smoking marijuana and using cocaine before his team played in a televised game against UMass Amherst.

A planned drug test that followed immediately after forced him to a confession at an ESPN press conference that he had a cocaine addiction. He completed a 28-day treatment program, his first of several, and moved back to Fresno. He was eventually drafted by the Denver Nuggets.

He called his rookie season a success because of the watchful eyes of teammates. He then went back to Fall River, where he bought a house for his wife and first son, who was born when he was a senior at Fresno. While there, he had a cookout for high school friends. At that cookout is where a childhood friend turned him on to pills.

“I had no idea that decision, that day, was going to change my life forever. … I had no idea that 40 mg pill would turn to 1600 mg a day and that $20 would turn to $25,000-a-month habit.”

When it was time for his second season with the team, he said he walked into the locker room at 22 years old “a full-blown junkie.”

Herren said his eventual call from the Boston Celtics was “a dream come true,” but continued dependence on drugs poisoned the experience.

Herren said eight minutes before one game, he ran out to Causeway Street to locate his dealer, who was stuck in traffic a quarter of a mile away. He made it back to the Garden with three minutes to spare.

Students in the crowd shed tears as he spoke of other students he has met in his talks around the country who relayed their struggles, including cutting themselves and bullying.

Lt. David Bailey, who heads the narcotics intelligence division at the Nashua Police Department, said he approached the police chief with the idea of using drug forfeiture money to bring in Herren for what was Herron’s second visit to Nashua High School North. Last year’s visit was so motivating, some students reached out to Herren’s organization Hoop Dreams directly, looking to get assistance with problems at home.

“It was a pretty strong message,” Bailey said.

After Wednesday’s talk, a large knot of students formed around Herren as he shook hands and embraced each one. During the Q-and-A period, one student gave a tearful testimony about drug use and its deadly impact on her family. Herren walked to the student, seated on the gym floor, and took her hand in his as she spoke.

After the presentation, one Nashua High School North student said family problems, including other members’ drinking, drug use and depression, took their toll on her.

“I got really depressed; I started cutting myself. It’s hard for me. My dad’s in jail. My mom killed herself,” she said. “Stay away from drugs, and if I need help to talk with people. I don’t want my life to be wrecked.”

Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or dhimsel@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Himsel on Twitter (@Telegraph_DonH).