Another turn back the clock piece, this time my second interview with former NBA Player and founder of Herren Wellness, Chris Herren.
Since we last spoke, I have taken your journey to heart. It might be cliche to say, but life is too short, ultimately you just never know what might happen. Just as you are on your specific path, so am I. In April of 2012, I decided to completed my Bachelor’s. 12 years after the fact. I graduated with a degree in May of 2013.
When trying to do that while working a full-time job it can be a struggle, but a struggle that I knew would end in a special moment.
In January I begin my Master’s, another mountain, but one I will also conquer.
Devon Teeple: It has been well over a year since we last spoke and it is a real pleasure getting to talk to you again. Since that time, you have passed the five-year sobriety mark. Considering the path you were on before, that is really something special. I am not claiming to know about anything you are going through on a daily basis, but what does this “five-year” mark mean for you and your family?
Chris Herren: For my family it’s a miracle, it’s nothing short of that. The blessing of what these five years has brought to my family is amazing. One of the greatest gifts I’ve received in this process is watching my kids and family recover along side of me. This is a family illness. Addiction obviously attacks that person who is struggling with it, but it breaks family members hearts along with them. There’s a lot of fallout and a lot of damage and I’ve been able, over the last five years, to repair a lot of that one day at at a time. It’s come full circle, and it’s special, and of anybody struggling out there, hopefully that can inspire them to chase what they want.
DT: I remember reading your book, and then following it up with your documentary shortly after, I could not even imagine what you and your family are going through. And to see everything that you are doing now to correct it, it really opens your eyes to what people can accomplish, and the difference that just one person can make.
CH: That’s critical. Sometimes we box ourselves in to say we can never grow, and that we’ve gotten too far down to get back up. And it’s never too late. I was just talking with the Celtics-I’m getting ready to do their TV games-and I said it’s pretty amazing that 15 years ago I had a chance to play and blew it, but 15 years later I’m coming back to talk about it.
DT: With positives all-around you, your message and your mission has spawned some very selfless organizations; The Herren Project and its initiative; Project Purple. Project Purple was launched to break the stigma of addiction, bring awareness to the dangers of substance abuse and shed light on effective treatment practices. They have now celebrated their one-year anniversary, and in January saw over 100,000 wear purple to support the project.
What is it like seeing something so near and dear become, with its intent to help, become so popular?
CH: I would have never imagined, but I knew the need and knew there would be a demand. But the beauty of it is the hold that the students have taken amongst themselves. They are the ones making this happen. That’s probably the greatest thing about it. Nobody is forcing, nobody is pushing it. The students are taking the concept/idea/message and applying it in their schools.
DT: One thing you do is tell your story to schools and organizations all over the country. How do you find that the audience receives you once they hear what you have to say?
CH: It depends on the person sitting in that one particular seat. Some people walk away from it and say they will be much more vigilant and aware of what my kids are up to. Others may walk out and say today and tomorrow are going to be different, and I’m going to change the way I’m living. Sometimes the message gets lost in two words; heroin and cocaine. But what it all boils down to is the soul, and how you really fee about yourself. And if you felt really good about yourself, most would have a reason to change themselves. They would be able to be themselves 24/7, and that’s the message that really resonates for the kids. I ask them how come they can’t be themselves Friday and Saturday? You need to really understand that.
DT: With your story so widespread, have you ever had professional athletes reach out to you? And if so, what can you tell them?
CH: Of course, professional/college, actors/actresses and many others. There’s a universal language in struggles. And we can all identify with that. Not many are free without ever struggling. Of all the areas and all professions I’ve been in contact with, that’s what it’s all about.
DT: I recently read that you are back in the professional basketball world, this time behind the microphone working Boston Celtics games with Danny Ainge. That must be quite a thrill? How did that opportunity present itself?
CH: The Celtics presented it to me and asked me if I was interested. I enjoy what I’m doing so much that I wasn’t going to do as many games as they originally asked for. What I do today is something that I really believe in, something I’m really passionate about. I did not want to walk away from that. I agreed to do a certain amount of games (five), but it truly is a miracle that I’ve been able to come back. I remember I used to be ashamed of the Celtics, ashamed of whatever I had accomplished, and now it’s a true blessing.
DT: Is that something you ever thought you’d be doing and is it something you could see yourself continuing to do in the long run?
CH: You never know. If someone were to tell me I would still be speaking I would tell them they were crazy 3/4/5 years ago. When I first started this they told me you’re going to do it for a little while, then once every couple of months, but I’ve been going five days a week for four years. I would never have imagined that. Who knows what that unlocks because of it. If anything, I want people to see a recovering heroin addict right there talking about basketball. At one point he was as low as it gets, and now he’s back. It’s all about inspiration. You never know who’s going to turn on that TV and see one of those games.
DT: When I moved to Thunder Bay in April of 2011, one of the first things I did was hit the local book store and pick up your book Basketball Junkie. I finished it in two days, and was blown away. Since then, I have read Fall River Dreams and fully realized the pressure that was, not only on you, but other athletes that grew up in Fall River.
What is the biggest thing you hope kids take away after you speak with them?
CH: I don’t share with them to scare them. I want to make them aware that at one point I was just like them sitting in that seat and listening. And the only thing unique about my story is the Celtics. There are millions of others just like me. A few decisions can turn into a lifetime of addiction and years of consequences. I want the kids to walk out of school saying that this Friday I’m going to give myself a shot at trying to be me. This Friday night I’m going to go out and be the person I am, I’m not going to have to put a substance in tonight.
We thank Mr. Chris Herren for his time to speak to us. It’s always and honor and a pleasure.
For those wanting to learn more about Chris Herren and his organizations, please visit A Hoop Dream, The Herren Project, and Project Purple. More information about his book can be found at Basketball Junkie.