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updated: 2/20/2014 5:18 AM

Ex-NBA player speaks of his struggles with drug abuse at Glenbard North

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  • Chris Herren

      Chris Herren

 
 

Chris Herren heard the words he waited for his whole life.

"At starting point guard for the Boston Celtics, 6-foot-2, from Fall River, Chris Herren."

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Only the yellow pills of oxycotin Herren popped in the player's parking lot minutes before his first start erased it all.

"Not many kids get to hear those words, never mind from your hometown team. I waited my whole life and I dreamt of it my whole life," Herren said, "and I don't remember it."

Herren, a former player for the Celtics and Denver Nuggets, author of the book "Basketball Junkie" and the subject of the ESPN film "Unguarded," shared his story of a struggle with substance abuse and road to recovery with students and parents Wednesday at Glenbard North High School. The program is part of the Glenbard Parent Series.

Herren sneaked his first beer out of his uncle's refrigerator in eighth grade.

The next year, he was introduced to marijuana while a high school basketball folk hero in Fall River, Mass.

Days after a Sports Illustrated photo shoot as a college freshman at Boston College, Herren walked out of an anti-drug talk, entered his dorm room and found his roommate cutting lines of cocaine piled on his desk, along with a dollar bill.

"I had no idea that it would take me 14 years, have a wife and three beautiful children," Herren said, "that it would take 14 years to walk away from that dollar bill."

It was the start of more than a decade-long cycle of addiction.

He was kicked out of Boston College after playing one game, went on national TV to declare himself an addict after a relapse at Fresno State. A $25,000 a month painkiller addiction followed in Boston, and a heroin addiction started when he played in Italy. At one point, he left his wife and kids stranded at a California airport for eight hours after a binge left him too paranoid to stay on the highway.

Finally, in 2008, Herren was granted a day away from a drug rehab facility in New York to see his son Drew born. It would be the first time Herren would be sober to witness the birth of a child. Two months before Drew's delivery, Herren was almost declared dead after crashing his car following a heroin overdose.

Within hours after Drew's birth, Herren was gone, and relapsed in his drug dealer's car while his older children met their new brother. When he returned, his wife Heather had had enough.

"She said 'You broke my heart a million times,'" Herren said, 'and this is the last time I'll let you break my children's hearts.'"

In August it will be six years since Herren last gave into his addiction. He has spoken to millions of high school kids about drug addiction, and in 2011 founded the Herren Project that assists families and individuals struggling with addiction.

"Recovery has put a silver lining in every bad day I've ever had," Herren said.

Herren, who spoke in front of a crowd of 2,500 at Naperville North on Tuesday, comes to the area as DuPage County is dealing with a record number of heroin-related deaths in 2013.

"The tragedy is that a lot of parents look away," Herren said. "The days of living in a bubble is done. Where you live doesn't make kids safe."

Every time Herren comes home, he is greeted by 6-year-old Drew, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit.

"To Drew every day is Christmas," Herren said, "because he's lived in a sober household his whole life."

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