Tag: Chris Herren


How Antonio McDyess, Nick Van Exel showed real leadership


If you get the chance ESPN Films’ Unguarded, the story of Chris Herren and how he battled drug use throughout his college and brief NBA career. It’s compelling.

But among the stories lost in the waves drugs can be how, during Herren’s time with the Nuggets veterans Antonio McDyess and Nick Van Exel went farther to stop his use and turn him around than any coach or family member had before.

Tom Ziller describes it well at SBN:

Other than those who ran the treatment center that helped Herren turn his life around, the only people mentioned in Unguarded who actually kept Herren from destroying himself were Antonio McDyess and Nick Van Exel, veterans on the Nuggets team that drafted the guard. During training camp, McDyess and Van Exel pulled Herren aside and told him that they knew all about his struggles with addiction, and that he wouldn’t be partying at all that season. Every night, he would be checking in with them, and when the Nuggets were on the road, he would be joining them for dinner instead of going out drinking.

And it apparently worked. McDyess and Van Exel did what no coach, no family member, no friend, no mentor had been able to do for Herren: they held him accountable. When the Nuggets sent Herren to the Celtics, that support system was gone and Herren reverted.

That is veteran leadership. We often oversell what that leadership can mean on the court, especially because it’s not something you can easily quantify. But it does matter. On the court, and sometimes more importantly off. And if Herren had run into guys like McDyess and Van Exel earlier or more often, this might have been a very different story.

Chris Herren’s powerful story of drug addition and hoops

Chris Herren Celtics
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You may not remember Chris Herren, the Massachusetts prep star, a second round pick of the Nuggets in 1999 out of Fresno State (when Jerry Tarkanian was there).

He played a rookie season with the Nuggets before getting the dream of every young New England hoopster — he was traded to the Celtics.

Drugs would rob him of that.

A quick and strong point guard he was out of the league in two years. Long before less talented guards.

In his stunning autobiography “Basketball Junkieexcerpted at SLAM (via Ball Don’t Lie), Herren recounts his drug addicted days. How he drove his kids around drunk and on heroin. How he was so far gone he needed the high just to function.

What follows is a part of that except, but it’s far from the part that is the most challenging. This is not the part that describes how far down the rabbit hole he went, it’s just the start. You should go read the whole thing.

In October 2000 I was introduced at a press conference as the newest member of the Boston Celtics, one of a handful of New England guys who had ever played for the team.

The Celtics were everything when I was a kid. I idolized them. When I was out in the driveway with the spotlight on the basket, playing imaginary games in my head, the shot clock ticking off while I made the big shot to win the game, I was Danny Ainge, Larry Bird. Every ball I bounced, every shot I took, it was always about the Celtics. My father had taken me and my brother to a big rally in Government Center in Boston in 1986 when they won the title. I was 11 years old. I even had an autographed picture of Larry Bird, which said, “To Chris, keep playing,” signed on a place mat from a Boston bar that my father and his cronies used to frequent.

But that day at the press conference, none of that mattered. That day should have been one of the highlights of my life. Instead, it’s all a blur, half-remembered, if remembered at all. My life was much too painful by then. Everything was about just trying to get through the day and keep the lie going, because the reality was that by the time I got to the Celtics, I was hooked on OxyContin.

I started getting into opiates that summer, when Heather and I left Denver for what was supposed to be a happy summer with our baby, Chris, in Fall River. Actually, I had started in my junior year at Fresno after I came back from rehab and was getting off cocaine. I’d always hated cocaine, even when I was using it, hated coming down from it, the depression, the empty feeling. Cocaine brought me to a point where I couldn’t look at myself. Vicodin was different. Vicodin was mellow. It slowed things down. And for some reason, I could play basketball on it. The first few times it made me sleepy and tired me out, but after a while it was like a pep pill.