Friday September 28, 2012

NORTH ADAMS -- The bleachers of the gymnasium at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts were packed with people Thursday night.

But they weren't watching a basketball game; they were watching Chris Herren, a former Boston Celtics player, pace the sidelines of the court and recall his rise and fall in the NBA.

It's a story that was filled with frequent drug use, despite given several opportunities to avoid it. After years of using cocaine, heroin and oxycodone, Herren has been sober since he "dropped to his knees" on Aug. 1, 2008.

Since then, the Boston native, has traveled the country to speak to auditoriums filled with high school and college students on the negative impact that drugs have. He now is the head of the organization Hoop Dreams.

"My worst days would end up becoming my best days, because now I can travel and speak," Herren said.

Herren was brought to MCLA through a NCAA Student Athlete Affairs grant, and was sponsored by MCLA Athletics, CHOICES, Williams College, MCLA's Academic Affairs and the university's sociology and psychology departments.

Though the presentation opened light-heartedly with the entire gym singing "Hap py Birthday" to Herren, it quickly turned serious and engaging once the quick-talking Herren rolled into his story, which began his freshman year at Boston College, trying cocaine after a roommate's friend enticed him.


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"I had no idea the next day that the coach would pull me aside and tell me I needed a drug test," Herren told the engaged crowd.

Every time Herren bounced back, his addiction kicked in. When playing college basketball in Fresno, Calif., he called up a dealer and did some cocaine -- a night before his game that was aired on CBS Sports. His coach suspected something, and Herren told him there was no need to take a drug test because he'd fail it. A press conference was held at which Herren admitted, on television, that he was using drugs.

"I became an 18-year-old known for substance abuse," Herren said.

Despite the promise of Herren's career that he shared, like when he finally realized his dream come true and made it to the Boston Celtics, drugs took precedence in Herren's mind.

"I remember they were announcing me, the point guard for the Boston Celtics, and the only thing I was thinking was getting some Oxycontin."

Ultimately, after talking with a close friend about his problem, he realized that he had too much at stake -- his family -- to continue abusing drugs.

Many people in attendance showed school pride by wearing yellow shirts with "We Live For Gamedays" printed on the front in support of the MCLA Trailblazers. Several similarly dressed high school and college sports teams were sitting in the bleachers.

"It's important to give the knowledge that students need -- that drugs can affect people today, and it can affect their lives tomorrow," said Holly McGovern, an MCLA Athletics faculty member who organized the event.

Wearing one of the yellow MCLA school spirit shirts and holding a basketball most of the night, 13-year-old Brent Arseneau held onto Herren's speech, and was relieved that the story ended on a happy note that Herren "got better and was able to see his wife and kids again," Arseneau said. "It taught me to continue to be myself, and to live a good life."