DANVERS — When former Boston Celtics player Chris Herren took to the basketball court in the field house at Danvers High for more than hour Thursday morning, he left students awed and exhausted. Some felt faint; one girl was hyperventilating with emotion.
Herren, 37, is the founder of The Herren Project, a nonprofit which helps families and individuals suffering from addiction. The Fall River native impressed students and staff not with his basketball prowess, but with his straight talk of how he fell into a 14-year battle with drug abuse.
It all started, he said, at age 18 when his shot at becoming a star at Boston College was knocked off course when he tried cocaine for the first time. The roots of his behavior, he said, was because he smoked, drank and sneaked around in high school.
“The reason why it all would’ve happened was because of the way I behaved in high school,” Herren said.
Herren, whose life has been featured in an ESPN documentary, “Unguarded,” now travels around the country speaking to thousands of kids a year. He also wrote a book, “Basketball Junkie,” about his life.
Thursday, in a talk sponsored by the DanversCares prevention coalition, he spoke to more than 1,000 students and staff with a message that drug abuse is happening now in high schools and colleges all over the country and on the North Shore. For most, it starts with a cavalier attitude toward drugs and alcohol, and the need to use because of insecurities and the desire to fit in. For him, it all started with “a red Solo cup and a blunt (a type of marijuana cigarette).”
Drugs eventually consumed Herren’s hoop dreams, nearly destroyed his family and ended his life. His message was just as much about a lack of self esteem as it was about the dangers of drug use. One leads to the other, he said.