MENOMINEE —  Many Menominee High School students were brought to tears Thursday at an assembly with guest speaker Chris Herren, a former college basketball star who played in the NBA.

Herren spoke about his own history with addiction which eventually cost him his career. His visit was sponsored by Winsert Inc.

Herren began his career and path toward addiction at Boston College.

“I was getting offers from all over the country, but I said ‘I’m homegrown, I need to stay in Boston’,” he told the students.

Within the first several weeks of his freshman year, his roommate had invited some girls over who asked Herren to try a line of cocaine. 

“That day, at 18-years-old, I opened a door that could not be closed for another 15 years,” he said. 

Shortly after taking his first line of cocaine, Herren failed his first college basketball preseason drug test. That first season was short-lived, due to a wrist injury he sustained his first game and Herren was forced to sit out the entire season. 

He failed two more drug tests and was eventually expelled from Boston College.

However, he received a second chance at his career when he got a call from California State University-Fresno. Herren, once again on the path toward becoming a professional basketball player, but he was not on a path toward sobriety. 

By Herren’s third year at Fresno, he was expected to be a 1st-round draft choice in the NBA. However, after failing more drug tests and spending time in rehab, he was picked in the second round by the Denver Nuggets. He played for Denver for a year before getting traded to the Boston Celtics. 

“This was my dream, but it was the worst thing that could have happened,” he said.

In Boston, he had access to his old friends and dealers who continued to fuel his drug habit. He got arrested multiple times, spent time in rehab and overdosed four times.

“People always tell me, ‘if you didn’t go to Boston College, you would never have started drugs,’” he said. “The truth is, I had started down the path that would lead me to drugs much earlier than college.”

Herren’s father was an alcoholic who was physically and emotionally abusive to his mother. 

“My father was an alcoholic, but when I was your age I didn’t understand it,” Herren said. “Because the pictures of alcoholics that I saw in assemblies like this or in my health class didn’t look like my dad.” 

His father, Al Herren, was a politician who “wore a suit and tie every day.”

“I remember the first time my mother said the word ‘divorce’ and I knew what it meant. I stayed up all night afraid she would leave.”

Herren said that the next morning, he had found his mother in the kitchen crying. “I walked up to her and I made her a promise. A promise that I, like many of you, would break a few years later.” 

“At 13 years old I would be drinking my father’s beer with my friends, thinking I was tougher than you,” Herren said.

He said that he had originally tried some of his father’s beer because he “wanted to know what his father liked so much about it.”

When his mother came home that day, Herren ran away, “she had been around the scent of beer every day for years. She could smell it a mile away and I didn’t want her to smell it on her baby boy’s breath.”

By the time Herren had entered high school, he began to go to parties that included drinking and smoking.

“What I remember most of those nights was not the party, but the end of the night.” he said.

Herren described how he would try to “cover-up his mistakes” by chewing gum and spraying his clothes so his mother would not know what he had been doing.

“My mom truly believed I could go out on a Friday night and have fun without that stuff,” Herren said. “At the end of the party, I would look across the room to the kids who had refused to drink and smoke and think about how they weren’t worried about breaking their mother’s heart.”

“I would look at them an think ‘those kids have something I’m missing. How come I need this stuff and they don’t?’”

Many of Herren’s friends were addicts at this time. “My high school basketball team had 15 students, and of those 15 students, seven would become addicted to heroin.” he said.

Herren said that his friends did not look or act like the addicts that speakers would talk about at his school.

“They never laughed at the assemblies, or made jokes about drug addiction,” he said. “They never said ‘I can’t wait to get out of here so I can stick a needle in my arm.’” 

“I was just like many of you. I didn’t pay attention to these assembles, I made jokes,” Herren said. “I thought these things were a waste of time, because I would never end up like that.”

He said that over the past eight years, he has been touring the country speaking at schools. Herren said he encounters students who tell him about their own experiences both taking drugs and being affected by those around him who did.

“I see a lot of you laughing, making jokes,” he said. “It happens at every school, but there are also several who are crying.”

He told the students that they have no idea what the students sitting next to them are going through. 

“The worst thing about addiction is no one can tell you have it,” he said.

“I was at a school once, where a student sat around a bunch of other kids who were laughing, while she cried,” Herren said. “I didn’t say anything but she later contacted me, to ask that I say something next time, because she had just lost her dad to drugs and she had to sit in a crowd surrounded by people who were laughing at the situation.”

“The students around you who are crying right now, or will raise their hands to ask me questions later, have more courage than I ever had at your age,” Herren said. 

He asked the students if they had younger brother and sisters. “Ask yourself one question: Do you want your little brother or sister doing what you do?” He said that at every school he speaks at, there are always students who shake their heads at the thought of their siblings going through substance abuse.

“If it’s not good enough for your siblings to do, why is it good enough for you?” he asked.

He emphasized that younger brothers and sisters try to emulate their older siblings.

“A seventh-grade student once asked me why I couldn’t have come to his school five days earlier,” Herren said. 

The student told Herren that five days before Herren spoke at his school, he had gone to the house of an 8th-grade student. Together, the two students had taken some pills, of which the 8th-grade student had seen his older siblings taking. 

Herren said the 7th-grade student told him that he had gotten sick, vomitted and eventually went home. However, the 8th-grade student had overdosed that night. The 8th-grade student was found dead by his mother.

“That eighth grader was just doing what he saw his older brother and sister doing,” Herren said. “Do you really want your younger brothers and sisters to follow your path?”

Herren’s own children, who are now between the ages of 10 and 19, have promised him that they would never get into drugs. However, Herren said “they have chosen not to, that doesn’t mean they won’t.”

He said if he learned that any of his three children had began to use drugs, he would not handle the situation the same way his parents had, “by punishing them the first couple of times and then eventually ignoring the problem.” 

“No, I would walk into their room and hug them,” he said. “Remind them how much I love them and then ask them a single question: ‘Why?’ We all have ‘why’ inside, but parents don’t want to ask it, and children don’t want to talk about it.”

“No one ever asks an addict why they began their addiction in the first place,” Herren said. “I started at 15, because I didn’t want to be myself.”

Herren is now 10 years sober, he cites his faith, his family and his own regret for coming as far as he has.

“I pray a lot, and I surround myself around people who are better than me who remind me of what I have to lose,” Herren said.

He told the students that before every assembly he prays that he can help at least one student. “The students that have come to me over the years, telling me that I have helped them mean more to me than anything that I had ever accomplished as a basketball player.”

“My goal is that one student in this gym will return to class and sit at his or her desk and say ‘I don’t like the kid I am becoming. I don’t like the things I am doing. I feel bad for my parents. I need to do better,’” he said.

He told the students that his story is not enough, “this is your story.”