Redemption is still always the best story


For anyone that missed ESPN Films’ premiere of their latest movie “Unguarded” I highly suggest that you go out of your way to see it.  It’s the story of the rise, fall, and recovery of former Fresno State, Denver Nuggets, and Boston Celtics point guard Chris Herren and it is an absolutely amazing story.

For those who don’t know Herren’s story, and I’m sure not many really knew the full extent until tonight, it is a story that sounded almost unbelievable at times.  It truly makes you realize that life can be so fragile, no matter how high or low you are.  Chris Herren was a junkie when he was an NBA player, living his dream, putting on a Boston Celtics uniform every night and playing at the Boston Garden, only miles away from his native Fall River.  He was a junkie when he went overseas to play basketball in countries such as China, Istanbul and Iran.  And he was a junkie when he had lost his way and was walking the streets looking for a high or spending all the money he had on him on booze, almost nothing left except his family.  Today, after walking to hell and back he’s come clean on the other side.

I’m not sure what the worst part of his downfall was.  Was it being almost disappointed when he realized his boyhood dream of being a Boston Celtic because he feared being enabled by his friends in his hometown?  Was it that he didn’t even care about holding up that jersey for the first time because he was more worried about where and when he was going to get his next high?  How about the shocking story about him cutting out on his warm-ups before his second game at the Garden, which he was starting, to meet up with a late arriving drug dealer?  Or the part of that story when he was standing out in the rain outside of the Garden waiting for said drug dealer to arrive?  Perhaps it was the part where he fell asleep behind a convenient store in a random city in California and then, when woken up by a few homeless men, took a walk to the liquor store to buy booze with them.  Perhaps the worst part is the fact that despite having a wife, two kids and a basketball career he thought that his best play was to stay out there and live on the streets with his new buddies.

None of that matters now.  Well it matters but not the way you would expect.  The memories are like battle scars.  The former inner-evils are now used as forces of good as Herren is now on the speaking circuit, speaking to anyone from children to prisoners to fellow rehab patients.  And he is good at it too.  As evidenced in the movie he can hold a room like no other.  Laughter, tears, shock – Herren can inflict all emotions on his speech-goers.  Also, he’s not a bad basketball coach either.  Chris Herren is now three years sober with a wife, three beautiful children and a life that seemed so far away on those nights in Fall River, and in California when he was woken up behind that convenient store.

This isn’t just the story of Chris Herren the basketball player.  It’s a story that is told far too many times up and down the seaboard of Massachusetts and probably many other cities and towns across the country.  Former classmates and acquaintances of my own, some have gone to rehab, some can not control their addictions, and some have even succumbed to it.  Addiction is like a disease and to not have that disease is to not truly understand what it is or how it feels to be felled by it.

Chris Herren gave us some great perspective of this.  He recounted a story of how when he came back from rehab his wife asked him why she didn’t find his toothbrush in the shower anymore.  It turns out that for six years Herren had a habit of shaving and brushing his teeth in the shower.  It wasn’t until his wife asked him about the toothbrush that he realized why that was.  For six years he refused to even look at himself in the mirror.  Chris Herren, without even realizing it, was whole again.  He woke up in the morning and went about his day, shaving and brushing his teeth in front of his mirror like anyone else would.  There wasn’t no big celebration, no sobriety pins, no cakes – it just happened.  That’s why redemption is still always the best story.

Whether you know someone with addiction, struggle with it yourself, or just simply love a good redemption story I suggest going out of your way to see it.  You can set your DVR for 7 AM on Saturday to ESPN2 if you want to catch it and check your local listings for other viewings.  I highly recommend it.  Also check out Chris Herren’s website at http://www.theherrenproject.org/.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

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About evonsports
30 year old sports enthusiast and aspiring writer from Boston.

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