Ex-NBA player Chris Herren gives 'spellbinding' talk in Havre de Grace about addiction, recovery

Former NBA player Chris Herren shares his story on addiction and his ten years of sobriety during a talk at Havre de Grace High School on Tuesday, Oct. 9.
Former NBA player Chris Herren shares his story on addiction and his ten years of sobriety during a talk at Havre de Grace High School on Tuesday, Oct. 9. (Brian Krista / The Aegis)

As a point guard for the Boston Celtics, Chris Herren’s dreams of playing in the NBA had seemingly come true. In reality, he was trapped in a nightmare of addiction to alcohol, cocaine, OxyContin and heroin.

Herren spoke to 325 people at Havre de Grace High School Tuesday evening about his descent into addiction, the loss of his career and his miraculous recovery in a presentation titled “Rebound,” sponsored by the Harford County Office of Drug Control Policy and the Havre de Grace High School PTSA.


Herren’s appearance was organized in conjunction with Harford County’s observance of Recovery Month. He had spoken to a group at The John Carroll School in Bel Air in 2016.

"I often say, we can step over addicts. We can walk past them on the street, but every one of them have a mom and dad at home. They have a son or daughter that miss them on Christmas and just want to see them on their birthday," Chris Herren told more than 800 people gathered at The John Carroll School's gym.

Listening intently in Havre de Grace were children as young as elementary school age, members of a youth football team in full uniform, high school and college age young people, parents and a middle-aged husband and father who identified himself as being in recovery, according to Harford County government spokesperson and Director of Governmental and Community Relations Cindy Mumby, who attended, as did Harford County Executive Barry Glassman.

“I am proud to welcome Chris Herren back to Harford County to share his story of recovery and hope,” Glassman said in his prepared welcoming remarks. “Like many who have traveled the path of addiction and recovery, his journey is marked with the highest achievements, and times of deep hopelessness and despair.

“Chris is living proof that addiction is a disease that does not discriminate. You can be rich or poor, old or young, an attorney or an NBA basketball player. Addiction impacts every segment of our society. But Chris’ story is also proof that treatment works. That recovery is possible. And that those struggling with addiction right now, are not alone. Harford County is here to support you, and we honor your courage to seek help,” Glassman said.

“Chris’ presentation was spellbinding,” Mumby wrote in an email Wednesday. “With his Boston accent, Chris described living his dream of playing basketball for his beloved Celtics at the same time he lived the nightmare of addiction. He was addicted at various times to cocaine, alcohol, heroin, OxyContin, to name a few, and overdosed four times. He was arrested and spent time in rehab. He became sober 10 years ago in August.”

Mumby said Herren cautioned that most prevention programs focus on an addict’s worst day, but the image of an addict at that time is not relatable to most kids.

Instead of focusing on the “worst day,” parents and others should focus on the “first day,” when a young person tries drugs or alcohol, he said.

“Rather than asking, ‘who were you with,’ or ‘where did you get’ drugs or alcohol, Chris said the goal of his presentation was for parents to ask, ‘why?’” Mumby explained, “meaning, why do you need to do this to yourself; why do you want to change yourself.”

After a question from a woman in the audience, Mumby said, Herren explained that the answers may be varied; “but many parents don’t want to ask this question because the answers may make them uncomfortable.”

Herren said his biggest struggles now are on days when he does not want to be himself, Mumby said.

“Emphasizing the point, he said that when he was at parties in high school he would see kids who didn’t drink or smoke and wonder what they had in them that he himself did not,” Mumby said, adding that Herren then told the group: “Kids who can go to parties and not drink – they’re heroes to me.”