It doesn’t take much to bring me back to my middle school days when the only thing on my mind was basketball. Basketball jerseys, basketball shoes, tear-away pants, the NBA, and how I was going to be in the WNBA. I loved playing the sport, but more than anything I loved watching it. I especially loved watching the underdogs, the ones who quietly warmed up and then exploded with the tip off. The ones everyone loved to discard and refused to believe in. The ones that the crowd booed and questioned. I loved seeing the athlete’s will to prove them all wrong.
One year, through some clever research/prodding (by my mother I assume) I was able to attend a Denver Nuggets practice (job shadow of something?! I don’t really remember. Clearly I was there for the right reasons). I remember watching Chris Herren run up and down the court, dishing passes right and left…Who was this and why didn’t I know everything about him?
Image from Rolling Stone
Pretty soon I did. In fact, I actually started a Chris Herren Fan Website. Yes, I was that much of a nerd cool. I actually googled it after his name popped back into my brain recently, half hoping my digital shrine would still be intact somewhere on the world wide web…No such luck. Needless to say, it was quite the dedication to one of my favorite basketball players. I had heard about the drugs. The alcohol. But isn’t that what mesmerizes us sometimes? Seeing someone overcome all the odds, better themselves, and prove everyone wrong? I loved watching Herren do just that…
Courtesy of Fresno Bee Hive
While he was in Denver, I was in heaven. I dragged my dad to games (Well..he paid) and actually carried an “I <3 Herren” sign. Let me also point out that I proudly cheered on a team that had one of the worst records in the western conference. I didn’t care. My dad, on the other hand, often shook his head in disgust. Back to Herren. He bounced around to the Boston Celtics after his stint in Denver and I clearly remember begging my dad to buy DirectTV NBA Ticket for the sole purpose of watching Boston Celtics and my hero.
But at around this time, the man who had yet to fall too hard, started crashing….
Unbeknownst to me at the time, drugs and alcohol were overtaking him. And the Hometown Hero was sliding down the slippery slope of addiction that he had started in college. Almost too quickly for me to keep track, he set off to play oversees. I tried to maintain my fan status but after countless hours trying to decipher foreign basketball websites, I think I finally moved on…
Herren continued to be swept up into a tornado of basketball, drugs and alcohol until it nearly killed him. He went from playing in the NBA to passing out in an alley after overdosing. From bright lights and jerseys to alcohol, oxycontin, meth, and heroin. ESPN has documented his rise and fall in a new film called Unguarded. It gave me chills, brought me to tears, and made me see just how strong addictions can grab onto our lives.
Flash forward three years into his sobriety and he is proud to call himself…