Now 15 years sober, Chris Herren brings his powerful story of recovery to North Stonington

Mary Raleigh
12/10/2023

The former Boston Celtics guard tells his gripping story with jaw-dropping candor

Chris Herren‘s life story is a movie. Literally– it was chronicled in ‘Unguarded,’ arguably the best and most powerful documentary in ESPN’s universally acclaimed ’30 for 30′ series.

Nowadays though, the former college basketball standout and Boston Celtics guard wants to talk about more than just his story . He’s still touring the country doing speaking events, but instead of simply digging painstakingly into his emotional and heart-wrenching journey, an Iliad of drug addiction and blown chances, he wants to focus on prevention, or as he calls it, the first day and not the worst day.

Herren, now 47 and 15 years sober, will be speaking at the Lake of Isles in North Stonington on Tuesday. The presentation is being hosted by the Primary Prevention Project, a federal grant directed by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation with the aim of reducing alcohol and substance use in children and teenagers within the local community.

If you’ve ever heard Herren speak, you’ll know to bring your tissues. The former NBA guard delivers his story in a raw and candid way, and two minutes into the talk, you’ll feel like you’re listening to an old friend. It’s gripping and powerful, and Herren is brutally honest in the way he tells it, describing how he went from one of the best high school basketball players in the country at Durfee High School in Fall River, Mass., to starting point guard for the Boston Celtics, to heroin addict who according to paramedics, died for 30 seconds after overdosing and crashing into a utility pole in Fall River in 2008.

Boston Celtics' head coach Rick Pitino, center, shares a light moment with newly acquired Celtics players Bryant Stith, left, and Chris Herren, right, as the players display their new jerseys during a news conference in Waltham, Mass., Monday, Oct. 16, 2000. (AP Photo/Angela Rowlings)Boston Celtics’ head coach Rick Pitino, center, shares a light moment with newly acquired Celtics players Bryant Stith, left, and Chris Herren, right, as the players display their new jerseys during a news conference in Waltham, Mass., Monday, Oct. 16, 2000. (AP Photo/Angela Rowlings)

Reliving his past week after week, 200 to 250 times a year by his estimate, everywhere from high school auditoriums to professional and college locker rooms, can be exhausting. Herren says that’s part of the reason why he feels the last few years of his sobriety have been the most challenging.

“I tell people all the time, the toughest years of my recovery were years 12 to 15,” Herren said. “The first 12 years were like a blink, they went right past me. But years 12 to 15 have been much more challenging for me. I’m doing two hundred speaking events a year, which typically puts me out of the house Monday night to Thursday afternoon. You know, living in hotels, it can get to you.”

Herren makes sure he’s making time for his own recovery, and trying not to spread himself too thin. In addition to giving talks all across the U.S. throughout the year, he runs the nonprofit Herren Project, which provides service and support for recovering addicts, and Herren Wellness, an inpatient recovery center in Seekonk, Mass. Herren said the center can house up to 24 guests, with each having access to a personal trainer, acupuncture, which can help with withdrawal symptoms, and sleep monitoring, as well as a comprehensive treatment plan. He said most of the patients, who have ranged from 15 years old to over 70, end up there after connecting following one of his talks.

Herren has been invited to speak to professional and college athletes all across the country, but he says the main thing that keeps him going is the impact he’s been able to have on kids.

“Countless children have sought help after (I’ve spoken) in their high schools. Countless,” Herren said. “And it’s the only reason I do it. It’s the only reason I walk into a school. Because it’s an opportunity for a young adult to think about who they’re becoming.”

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