Basketball Notes

Herren wrote the book on descent, redemption

By Gary Washburn
May 15, 2011

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It has been nearly three years since Chris Herren went through a life-changing experience that not only got him clean and sober but led to a personal crusade to guide young basketball players who could be as easily influenced as he was 15 years ago.

The former Durfee High School standout played 70 NBA games, including his last 25 with the hometown Celtics. But his story is one of stardom, addiction, near-death, and now redemption.

Herren, who played briefly at Boston College, has written a chilling book, “Basketball Junkie,’’ about his long road to recovery and desire to reach out to those who may consider a similar path.

Herren, 35, reached out to the Globe nearly two years ago in what he described as a therapeutic experience, less than a year after a car accident led to his final visit to an alcohol treatment facility. He has been sober for nearly three years now, and has taken time to reflect and gather his thoughts.

“I really did this to help kids who are thinking about experimenting with drugs and alcohol, or people who are already involved in it and didn’t realize or didn’t think they could come out of it,’’ he said.

“I heard people tell stories about the negative effect their addiction had on their children, and that gave me the courage to raise my hand and teach and open my mouth, and once I did that, the healing process began for me.’’

There may not have been a more heralded high school player in his era than Herren, who was all-state for three seasons at Durfee before committing to BC. His drug use began at BC and continued during his series of college and professional basketball stops.

A gifted 6-foot-3-inch guard with combo skills who never lacked confidence, Herren seemed destined for a long NBA career. But the lure of alcohol and drugs ruined his dreams and nearly cost him his life.

“After I overdosed and was arrested on June 4, 2008, I entered into a treatment center and my wife at the time was 8 months pregnant,’’ he said. “Against the advice of those at the treatment center saying I should just go home very briefly and see the birth of my child and come right back, I stayed for a couple of days, and I was getting high the next day.

“And when I walked back to that substance-abuse center, this counselor told me to do the most courageous, admirable thing I ever did in my life — and that was to cut my wife and my kids loose, because I was the only thing that was negative around them.

“That night, I contemplated whether that was the best decision, whether or not they would be better off without me. I laid in bed and I cried, and from that day forward, I have been blessed and fortunate never to have picked up a drink or a drug.’’

Herren spent nearly 11 months in that center, and when he was released, he was determined to make changes. He has formed “Hoop Dreams with Chris Herren’’ a player-development clinic for youngsters of all skill levels. He also relays his experiences in public-speaking engagements, offering harrowing tales of how drug and alcohol use derailed his eye-popping talents.

He has few fond memories of his brief stint with the Celtics in 2000-01, which followed 45 games with Denver in 1999-2000.

“With the Nuggets, I had a great experience,’’ he said. “I was around a lot of positive role models. When I was traded to the Celtics, I was surrounded by a lot of guys who were just young.

“After my injury and diving into OxyContin, I was lost. I could really care less about who I was playing for; it was more important for me to get my daily fix of Oxy.’’

Herren would love to have a bunch of Celtics stories sitting in his mental file cabinet, but he doesn’t. And he doesn’t necessarily review those days, wishing for better ones. The book serves as a cleansing of the soul, an opportunity to finally acknowledge and apologize for his past lifestyle while showing graciousness in walking away with his sanity and family.

“I was ashamed for many years of being a Celtic because I didn’t take advantage of it,’’ he said. “But I don’t get lost in the negativity. That’s the beauty of where I’ve reached and maybe the silver lining in the story of me playing for the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets. That raises kids’ attention level. That always seems to grab them.’’

The one Celtic memory Herren cherishes is when he took his then-10-year-old son Christopher Jr. to a practice in Waltham two years ago, and Paul Pierce gave the boy a pair of his sneakers.

“It’s really hard for me to have a bad day, it really is,’’ Herren said. “Because the life I live is where the living happens. A sober day is better than any high, and I truly look at it like that.’’

Wade, James reflect on Shaq Before Game 2 of the Celtics-Heat series, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were asked about Shaquille O’Neal, who appeared too injured to play much, if at all, in the series. James answered the question. Wade remained eerily quiet.

Five years ago, Wade and O’Neal were teammates, leading the Heat to their first NBA title. O’Neal was the final piece of the Miami machine, still a dominant center, while Wade was an emerging star. They helped Miami overcome an 0-2 deficit and a 13-point hole against the Mavericks to win four straight in the NBA Finals.

As with most of his NBA stops, O’Neal’s departure from Miami was bitter. He criticized Pat Riley for his three-hour practices, blamed the training staff for not properly diagnosing his hip issues (which apparently were solved by special exercises in Phoenix), and took a shot a Wade for his darling status in Miami.

Wade and O’Neal don’t have much of a relationship, but Wade realizes that the Heat would never have reached the pinnacle without O’Neal, who was determined to prove to the Lakers that he wasn’t an overweight, past-his-prime malcontent.

Wade finally expressed his feelings about O’Neal after Celtics coach Doc Rivers declared him out of Game 5 and the rest of the playoffs.

“Obviously, Shaq is one of the most dominant players in our time,’’ Wade said. “Who knows how long he’s going to play, but you can never take away anything he’s done as a champion, the way he set the blueprint for guys like Dwight Howard on and off the court.

“He’s a legend, he’s a living legend. It’s unfortunate when you get to the point in your career where you have to be halted by injuries. He’s a guy who could obviously help a team because of his talent level. Nothing takes away from Shaquille O’Neal.’’

O’Neal joined Miami for the 2004-05 season, when the Heat moved Lamar Odom to the Lakers and reduced Eddie Jones’s role to make Wade their premier offensive player. O’Neal and Wade combined for 47 points per game as Miami reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time.

“There were some things in my life that he was a big part of,’’ Wade said. “He came into my life at a time where I needed some guidance. I was 22 years old. He helped me grow. And I’m always appreciative of that, whether we speak another day or whether we don’t.

“He meant a lot to my basketball career and I meant a lot to his basketball career.’’

James, who was a teammate of O’Neal’s for a season in Cleveland, said, “He made fans believe they were at one with him. If you seen him — as big as Shaq is — the way he was and with his personality, if you seen him, if you were a complete stranger, you wouldn’t be afraid to go talk to him because you see how likable he was, how his personality was.

“He laid the blueprint for a lot of people, not only on the court but off the court. Still, to this day, he’s a great person.’’

Laker priority is a new coach Magic Johnson called for the dismantling of the Lakers after their embarrassing performance in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Mavericks. Los Angeles has no such plans, but the Lakers will need a new coach.

The Lakers have kept their coaches in the family, so to speak, save for that 43-game Rudy Tomjanovich stint in 2004-05. And their search for a replacement for Phil Jackson will be meticulous, because there is no obvious candidate to take over.

Brian Shaw, though he is the preference of Kobe Bryant, doesn’t appear to be the top choice of ownership. Names such as Rick Adelman, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mike Dunleavy (a former Laker coach) have been bandied about.

The new coach will have mostly the same roster as the one that melted down against the Mavericks.

The Lakers, like the Celtics, don’t have the roster flexibility to make major moves. Trading Andrew Bynum is a possibility, but moving talented, 24-year-old 7-footers isn’t usually a recipe for success.

Bryant believes the club just needs time to refocus.

“If you are asking me whether I think we can come back and win it again, I absolutely believe that,’’ Bryant said. “There’s so many question marks. A lot of people probably don’t expect us to continue on winning without Phil as a head coach, and that’s a challenge in and of itself.

“In terms of this being the decline of the Lakers, that’s nonsense. I remember they had a pretty good era in the ’80s and they didn’t win three in a row. They didn’t break that team up.’’

An issue that must be addressed is the status of Bynum, who made some interesting statements during the Dallas series. His role expanded during that series because Pau Gasol played horribly, but Bryant indicated that it means little heading into next season.

“[Expanding roles] is tough to do on this team and eventually he’ll have to fall in line,’’ Bryant said. “Because I’m going to shoot the ball. We all know that. Then Pau has to get his touches. So he’s No. 2 in command. So Drew has to fall in line with that. It’s pretty simple.’’

Some green for Crawford? Jamal Crawford earned $10 million in the final year of his deal with the Hawks and is now a free agent. He should be one of the more attractive players on the market because of his ability to score off the bench. Crawford is 31 and said he wants to play at least five more years. The question is whether he would take a mid-level exception — if that exists under the new collective bargain agreement — from a team such as the Celtics. Crawford clamored for an extension from the frugal Hawks but the club didn’t bite. He is the type of player who would interest the Celtics, and he would likely listen if it meant a chance at competing for a title.

Not-so-wonderful Wizard You might have thought Wizards forward Andray Blatche attended Game 2 of the Celtics-Heat series so he could inhale the playoff atmosphere and perhaps pass that experience along to his teammates. But no. Blatche was in Miami to make an appearance at an event called “Lapdance Tuesdays’’ at a South Beach club. Blatche has often been criticized for his immaturity, and attaching your name to an event like that doesn’t exactly scream leadership. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis told a Washington-area radio station that he wasn’t pleased with the promotion. “The Wizards being associated with that is unacceptable,’’ he said. “We’re not happy with that, and neither is he. The way those things tend to happen are not well understood. Sometimes celebrities get an appearance fee, and someone goes and markets them. Andray is a very gifted player, and we know this is a very important summer for him. He needs to come back and be in unbelievable shape with unbelievable determination, because he needs to prove he’s a really, really good player and that he can win. He gets it. The proof will be in the pudding, but he understands it.’’

Sensitive side Phoenix’s Grant Hill and Jared Dudley recently filmed a public-service announcement discouraging the use of the word “gay’’ as a derogatory term. The spot will debut tonight during Game 1 of the Heat-Bulls series. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network teamed with the NBA for the “Think B4 You Speak’’ campaign, which is one of the league’s responses to Kobe Bryant using a gay slur as an insult toward official Bennie Adams during a game last month.

Layups All-Rookie team guard John Wall of the Wizards attended Game 5 of the Celtics-Heat series and sat courtside next to LeBron James’s buddy, Maverick Carter. Wall wasn’t connected with any South Beach night spots, so perhaps he can teach Blatche a thing or two about public relations . . . Former Celtic Nate Robinson is causing some controversy in his native Seattle for tweeting that Oklahoma City fans are the best on the planet. That didn’t go over well in the former home of the Thunder/Sonics franchise, where many fans remain embittered about the team leaving after 41 years. Robinson, who has been a bit player for the Thunder, apologized to the city on his Twitter page. Meanwhile, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said the city is interested in bringing the NBA back at the Seattle Center, and not a proposed arena in Bellevue, an affluent suburb. That means little to the NBA, which wanted a completely renovated KeyArena or a new arena . . . The NBA family was saddened by the loss of Robert “Tractor’’ Traylor last week in Puerto Rico, where he was playing professionally. Traylor’s NBA career never quite worked out, and the Bucks were criticized for trading Dirk Nowitzki to Dallas for his rights. Traylor played seven seasons but never reached his All-Star potential. He last played in the NBA in 2005 before heart surgery — and later tax-evasion charges — scared off teams.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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