Chris Herren: Former Celtic's Heartwarming Story Inspires ESPN Films Unguarded

T.J. Mcaloon@@tjmcaloonContributorOctober 31, 2011

Not too many of us who grow up loving sports get to live out our childhood dreams in playing for the teams that we grew up watching when we become adults. 

However, in the case of former NBA player Chris Herren, not only did he get to live out his dream to play in the NBA, but he was able to play for his hometown team of the Boston Celtics

Bleacher Report was able to catch up with Chris Herren, going over what it was like to play for his hometown Celtics, his upcoming ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Unguarded,” his excellent book Basketball Junkie, and the state of the NBA and its lockout. 

But, getting back to what it was like to put on the hometown colors of the Boston Celtics and play in the Boston Garden for the first time, it did not hit Herren as much as it does now.

“It means a lot to me now, than it did back then. I wasn’t in the mental mind state back then," Herren said. "I wasn’t soaking it all in and grateful for the opportunity, so I look back on it and I don’t have a fond memory of it.”

Herren goes onto say that, “Now I do, as a New England kid, I think I was one of only five or six to ever put on the uniform.”

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The reason Herren did not have such a fond memory of his time with the Celtics, is due to substance abuse problems Herren dealt with for most of his basketball career.

During his high school days, he was the Boston Globe Player of the year from 1992 through ’94 and Gatorade New England Player of the Year in 1993 and ’94. As a prized recruit from New England, he went onto play for the Boston College Eagles, but was dismissed from the team, eventually finding his way into the Fresno State basketball program.

However, even with all of the success Chris Herren had in high school and college, he still faced much adversity on and off the court (heavily featured in his 30 for 30 feature).

“You know I had adversity from the first time I stepped on the floor," he said. "My high school career and college career were heavily followed and it’s why I did this documentary and book.”

“To tell kids that these are the things that are going to pop up in life and that basketball is not the be-all-end-all in life. There are much more important things in life like health and your mental/ emotional well being is important, because without that you have no basketball.”

It’s these virtues that Herren preaches now in his basketball clinics and speaking tours, as his substance abuse took him away the game he loved. Herren has now been sober since August '08 and continues working his program every day to stay clean and on the right track.

The year before Chris made it to the NBA, he went through a lockout, like NBA players are experiencing now. The players and owners finally came to an agreement, leading to a shortened 50-game season.

"What I see is two parties butting heads and not able to reach an agreement," Herren explained. "More importantly, I see the people who work at the games and business around the arenas hurting. I feel for those people, who have no jobs right now. I am more concerned for them right now than the NBA players”

He continued, “I think there can be a 50-game season. They will get an agreement sometime, but the owners can sit this out longer than the players so they have a trump card. Being a former player it doesn’t matter how much money you make, you live pay check to pay check, as your lifestyle goes up.”

Herren has seen this before, as he played with Antoine Walker, who earned $110 million in his 13-year pro career from 1996-2008, but is now in financial ruin and has filed for bankruptcy.

“Guys are going to run out of money and they’re going to have to come to an agreement.”

INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 28:  Antoine Walker #8 (L) and Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics rest on the bench during the second half against the Indiana Pacers in Game three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2005 NBA Playoffs on April 28, 2
Elsa/Getty Images

Chris Herren’s story is one of redemption. Now, he is a role model to the many kids that come through his player development workouts. He is more focused now on getting future basketball players ready for life in, and out, of basketball. 

It’s a shame that there wasn’t someone like Herren while he was still growing up; it may have save and prevented him from taking the wrong paths and life he previously lived.

Still, people who are going through substance abuse problems now have a person like Chris Herren to look up to as role model and learn from, as working their program can lead them off their destructive path and back on track for a productive, healthy life, like Chris Herron is having now.  

You can catch that "30 for 30" documentary on Tuesday night. Check your local listings for show times. And follow me on Twitter while you're at it.  

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