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General News    H3'ed 5/20/11

How Celtics Guard Chris Herren Battled Back From Addiction

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Sherwood Ross
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Even though Boston Celtics guard Chris Herren scored a career high 18 points in one game against Dallas in April, 2000, his agent Frank Catapano knew something was wrong. "Chris was too good a basketball player to be doing as bad (overall)as he was doing. He had a couple of injuries at Boston, a bad shoulder injury and those things seemed to delay what we knew he could do, but then the delays just got longer and...I told him, 'Look, Chris, I don't know what the reason you're not doing well is, but there's something wrong here.'"

What Catapano did not know was that the young basketball prodigy from Fall River, Mass., was seriously addicted to drugs, an addiction Herren concealed from others, saying, in retrospect, "People back at that time could not have really picked up on it." Yet, by the time he was in college, despite his "normal" exterior, both coaches and fans had grave suspicions about his substance abuse. Herren's own mother, he says, was the first to suspect something was awry and hired a detective to follow him. After being traded from the Denver Nuggets to Boston, Herren got injured playing and became hooked on prescription drug Oxycontin, which he termed a "nightmare." Herrin says he would find himself "waiting in parking lots" (for his dealer) before games, often outside the Boston Garden where, "I couldn't care less about the Celtics. I was more worried about getting those little pills."

In his aptly titled book, " Basketball Junkie: A Memoir," co-authored with Providence Journal sports writer Bill Reynolds, Herren indicated his troubles began while still enrolled in Durfee high school in Fall River. By the time he got to the National Basketball Assn.(NBA), the highly touted Herren could score only 3.1 points per game with Denver in the 1999 season and 3.3 points per game with Boston in the 2000 season. The 6 foot two-inch guard's mediocre play in the NBA was a disappointment considering his starring careers in high school and college. In high school, he chalked up more than 2,000 points and was chosen Gatorade New England Player of the Year for the 1993-4 season. As well, he was a McDonald's All-American pick for 1994. However, the lengthening shadow of drug abuse dimmed his brilliance as he progressed from alcohol and marijuana to heroin and Oxycontin.

In an interview on the Comcast SportsNet show "Educational Forum ," produced by the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, Herren said drug addiction could begin if you're "socially awkward, or your scared or nervous around people, so you have to have a couple of beers to dance. I believe marijuana and booze is the beginning of the process." Herren reflected, "I drank in high school, I used drugs in high school---not the hardest drugs---mostly marijuana, and some hallucinogenics once in a great while (and I saw) kids in high school that were much worse than me, kids that were drinking much more, smoking much more, taking much more. But I started the process in high school." The TV show is to be broadcast at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 22nd, EST on Comcast's SportsNet.

Herren told TV host/law professor Michael Coyne, Associate Dean, that some days he would walk onto the court and play not having slept the night before. By the time he starred for Boston College, even before going to Denver's NBA franchise, opposing fans taunted him with epithets "Chris Heroin" or "The Druggie." Not only did drugs impair his performance during games but they blurred his attention to his school work. "I (was) perfectly capable to sit in a classroom and do the work (but) I didn't pay attention in school." The "problem," though, "really came out in Boston," Herren said. When on cocaine, "Friday-Saturday turns into Sunday and Monday, you know? Then you'd get off it for a couple of weeks and then get back on it. When I crossed the line into opiates, it became a daily habit, and once that became a daily habit that's when things really started to snowball."

" People knew, I'm sure, not exactly (but) like Frank said, 'the outcome was never right,' 'the results were never right,' so there was something hindering my ability not only to be a basketball player but to just be a good person and do the right things."Herrin said the power of substance abuse is so great that even though he practiced shooting into the basket on his family driveway for hours and wanted to play for the Celtics from the age of six, "once I got there I couldn't care less."

Herrin said he was advised to get away from his friends who also were drug abusers but even that didn't work for him. "Chris Herren got high in Beijing. Chris Herren got high in Tehran. Chris Herren got high in Istanbul. Chris Herren got high everywhere he went," he said, blaming himself alone for his conduct. "So, you know, it was me who had to deal with it, and I never did, and I never took a moment to stop and look at it and go into a treatment facility and take care of this." Herrin went on to say, "Once you've crossed the lines of heroin and Oxycontin, there is no more social aspect to your life. It (substance abuse) overcomes it, it becomes your life." At one point, Herrin shot up in his car in the presence of his daughter.

Earning half a million a year playing for the Boston Celtics should have been a fairy-tale existence for Herren but it was more like a living nightmare. "I could not appreciate my life then," he told Coyne. "How could I appreciate anything when I was in a full-blown addiction mode?" Herren added, "I was living in Waltham, playing, practicing for two hours (every day), flying down to Fall River, picking up my drugs, flying back to Waltham, being a father, being a husband, you know, flying from city to city, making sure I had the drugs. It was crazy. I mean, there was no time to really appreciate that lifestyle."

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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)
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