Unguarded: The Story of a Basketball Junkie

Over the weekend I had the pleasure
of watching the ESPN Film “Unguarded”. It is the story of Fall River
native Chris Herren, a former high school and college standout who made it all
the way to the NBA. Chris would eventually fall into a drug problem that would
ultimately end his career. I have actually followed this story for the past
year, as a former AAU basketball coach there is a buzz among the coaches and I
had heard that Chris Herren was running basketball camps for AAU kids in Rhode
Island. Several months ago I had an article in the Providence Journal about
Chris’ new life and promoting his book “Basketball Junkie”. In that
article it was announced that ESPN was doing a documentary on it. I bought the
book and read it in less than a couple of days.

This film was well done, however it
left out how far Chris would go to do drugs. The film was basically bits and
pieces of his nationwide speech tour, where he would share his story with high
school students, AA meetings and at the Daytop treatment center, where he was a
patient. The Chris Herren story is a sad one, and if you know it from
beginning, Chris never had a chance. He was your prototypical high school
sports star in a town that loved basketball. He was following in his family’s
footsteps of great basketball players and had been anticipated as the next
great superstar, at 12 years old. That is extremely unfair for a kid that age
to pressure him into that type of role.

What the film is trying to capture
is that Chris was a prisoner of Fall River. The town had sunk his hooks into
him and would not let him go. As much as I wanted to believe that it is simply
not the case. Chris had a very strong support system. His brother and
especially his wife were always there for him, hoping to make him kick his
terrible habit and his addictive personality. That was Chris’ major flaw, he
was a good person, a good son, a good brother, a loving husband and father.
Neither the book nor the movie portrays him as an evil man as you see in many
cases with drug abusers. If it was just a case of the city he was from, then
once he left Fall River the problems would not have followed him to Fresno,
Denver, Boston, Bologna, Istanbul, Tehran, and so on. Chris was a junkie and
his body literally could not function without drugs.

In the film, Chris shared some
stories of his actions during his drugged out times. The book is Chris sharing
all those stories and the desperation he was facing as his body had conformed
to his addictive personality. A couple of the stories shared.

  • When needing shoulder surgery as a member of the Boston
    Celtics his body was so accustomed to Oxycontin that he was not responding to
  • When he was in rehab in Utah, while at Fresno State, his roommate’s
    girlfriend would sneak them drugs by putting them in a tennis ball and throwing
    it up to their balcony
  • While playing in China, he was at his apartment during an
    off day watching his son. He went downstairs to meet his dealer, he was already
    high. He had thought he had locked himself out of his apartment and broke down
    to door to get in. Come to find out, he was on the wrong floor.

The book and movie both miss the
mark on one facet. They definitely mentioned it but they could have gone into
it more. The true hero of this story is not Chris, but his wife Heather Herren.
It could easily be claimed that Heather did not sign up for. That is wrong, not
only did she sign up for it, she was going to beat this thing with Chris, she
was the rock that made the family stay together. She treated Chris like he had
any other sickness. Just because his sickness was a drug addiction, doesn’t
make him any less sick. She would not bail on him if he had cancer, so she
would not bail on him during his dark times. Heather is the true hero of this
story and as Chris stated in the first 15 minutes of the documentary when
recounting a story, “Heather saves the day again”

I truly recommend seeing
“Unguarded” and if you are truly mesmerized by this story then you
should read “Basketball Junkie”. It is a nice memoir and you will get
the true detail of what Chris Herren was going through. I want to thank Chris
Herren for sharing his story with the world, he is not alone, he has his
family, his friends and everyone either watched his movie or read his book in
his corner. Go get em Chris!


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