Wednesday night, April 17, Springfield College got to hear firsthand a story that embodies the motto of Spirit, Mind and Body from one of the region’s most recognizable basketball players.
Chris Herren, a former NBA point guard and high school basketball legend from Fall River, Mass., shared his story about overcoming his drug and alcohol addiction now more than four years sober.
At 7 p.m. in the fieldhouse, with attendance so large, many were forced to stand or sit on the ground. Herren took the mic and for an hour shared his story from his beginnings growing up in the tight-knit city of Fall River, starring for the famed Durfee High School basketball team, to his addictions to cocaine, OxyContin and heroin.
The speech ended around 8 p.m., but Herren didn’t leave the building until after 9 p.m. The former Boston Celtic didn’t exit the complex until every hand was shook, every photo was snapped and every story and cry for help was heard.
“They’re not all heartbreaking. Some are, but the heartbreaking ones…those are huge steps for a kid to talk about,” Herren said. “As heartbreaking as they are, for that kid to sit down and say this is what’s going on in my life, or this is what I’m affected by, that’s a huge step for that kid.
“So right there is a success. That’s what this is all about.”
Herren had spoken earlier in the day at a prep school in another part of the state, and is back at it again at another prep school in Connecticut on Friday. He has given this speech in front of professional teams such as the Green Bay Packers, and other schools and places throughout the country. He also shared his story in 2011 with ESPN as part of the 30 for 30 films series, in the documentary Unguarded.
“I believe we can make a difference, that we can change the culture,” Herren said. “I believe it is going to have an impact on kids’ lives, so I can’t stop being motivated.”
For all 60 minutes, the fieldhouse stayed quiet, hanging onto every word from Herren.
“I thought it was very powerful,” Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students David Braverman said. “I think it adds some more credibility.”
Herren described his first experience with cocaine when he was a freshman at Boston College, his failed drug tests at Fresno State, his addiction to OxyContin while with the Celtics and his first time using heroin while playing overseas.
He described the instance, minutes before his first career start with the Celtics – his dream as a kid – he left the arena to find his Oxy dealer, who was stuck in traffic.
“I’m fighting the crowd, going in the opposite way looking for that yellow pill,” Herren said.
Herren became clean on August 1, 2008 when the fear of losing his family made him change. His sobriety has sparked an inspiration for others, who in return have inspired the former NBA guard. He’s started Project Purple, with the organization’s mission to help others who suffer with substance abuse.
This won’t be Herren’s last appearance in Springfield this season. His former coach at Fresno State Jerry Tarkanian, and Rick Pitino, his coach with the Celtics, will both be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Tarkanian, a man who got a second chance at Fresno State, passed the same onto Herren.
“He gave me 15 chances,” Herren said with a laugh. “I’ll be here. I think it’s well deserved and I think Coach Tark’s is long overdue.”
After his evening at Springfield College, Herren acknowledges the significance of being back at home.
“The Birthplace of Basketball is great, but this is Massachusetts. This is my home,” Herren said. “It’s always feels special for me to do it at home.
“It’s a great motto. It’s strength and that’s what this is all about. Healthy Spirit, healthy Body, healthy Mind.”