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Monday, October 31st, 2011 at 11:41 am  |  17 responses

Redemption

Chris Herren’s documentary Unguarded shows bravery and triumph is bigger than the game.

by Jonathan Evans / photos courtesy of Hock Films

The game of basketball is full of legends. Legends born based on displays of strength, toughness, and perseverance. Legends born based on feats accomplished on local and national levels. For better or worse, former Boston Celtic Chris Herren—the pride of Fall River, Massachusetts—knows all about what it takes to become legendary. While painfully public battles with drugs and alcohol derailed his promising playing career and nearly cost him his life, Herren has recently found strength and redemption in sharing his harrowing tale with others.

This past spring, with the help of co-author Bill Reynolds, Herren published Basketball Junkie, a revealing memoir. Now, with Herren’s full cooperation, noted filmmaker Jonathan Hock tells the story of the ubertalented guard’s fast rise, hard fall and unlikely salvation in Unguarded, a documentary slated to air on ESPN this coming Tuesday night (Novemeber 1, 2011).

Last week, in Boston, the emotional and gripping documentary made its world premiere to an audience that included both Hock and Herren, along with Herren’s wife, children, and close friends (including long-time pal Chris Mullin, an NBA Hall of Famer and fellow recovering alcoholic). Emotions were palpable as the packed theater watched a hometown favorite recount his lifelong journey of vulnerability and struggle, bravery and triumph.

“It’s not easy, but it’s something that’s necessary,” Herren said shortly after the Boston premiere. “If I’m able to inspire one person who was living like I was than it’s well worth it.”

The goal of reaching others is one that Herren takes seriously, and approaches earnestly, speaking to college kids, community groups, therapeutic communities and members of the US armed forces—pretty much anywhere he thinks his story can make a difference. This devotion to retelling his tale for the benefit of others serves as the narrative foundation for Hock’s film, which takes its audience from high school in Fall River to basketball and drugs in Fresno State, from a drug-riddled stint with the Celtics to an even worse existence while playing in China.

“Go through the nightmare to get to the hope,” Hock said, describing the structure of the film. “Chris goes to these dark places but speaking from strength and sobriety made the whole thing different because you could see the hope.”

Hock, an eight-time Emmy winner adept at finding and unspooling stories that resonate, realized the power of Herren’s story and ability to recreate it for audiences after seeing footage his lead cameraman, Alastair “Gee-Lock” Christopher captured at the Brandon Jennings Invitational this past January. Hock recalls thinking, “Wow, Chris is really good at this. The solution is right here; it’s Chris and the people he’s reaching out to.”

Through the film, Herren connects with a range of captivated groups: students, young ballers, military personnel and patients at a rehab facility. In their faces you see the power of the Herren’s delievery and remarkable story. You see the shock and awe when Herren vividly describes the first time he saw cocaine in his Boston College dorm room. You see the disappointment and empathy as he tells of the time he left warmups minutes before gametime to meet his dealer on a corner outside of the Boston Garden so he could his fix before a game started.

Threaded between the heartbreak and tears is gamefilm from Herren’s high school and college career; gamefiln that bleeds Massachusetts grittiness, punctuated by tough drives to the hole, a jumper with unlimited range, emotional outburtsts and charismatic dances. Highlights that once whet scout’s appetite serve in the documentary as bittersweet reminders of brilliance that wasn’t meant to be.

“It’s painful,” Herren said about watching himself. “I’m seeing that 21 year-old and I want to grab him by the shirt and say, ‘Smarten up!’”

Reliving the story is no easier for Herren’s wife and children. The process of recovery and redemption has brought up painful memories for the entire family. But ultimately the Herrens are grateful.

“To have that moment with my children and get past it, you can’t put a price on that,” Herren said.

Unguarded seeks to builds on the success of his autobiography Basketball Junkie. Readers’ response to the book led Herren to develop The Herren Project as a way to help others recover and take steps towards sobriety.

“I started a foundation to pay for people’s treatment,” Herren said.  “Doing this and the book is part of giving it away and letting others see that there’s hope.”

After losing what was suppose to be his ticket out, basketball is once again a central part of Herren’s life. In 2009 Herren started Hoop Dreams, a basketball skills school that pairs Herren with youth of all ages and ability levels. After years of abusing and neglecting the game, Herren is using his experience to help others reach their potential, both on and off the court.

Truly the stuff of legends.

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  • NTE56

    Every time I hear about Herren and what he’s doing, I’m amazed that he can be so honest and candid. Can’t imagine living through that, and then having the strength to revisit it again and again.

    Good for him (and for anyone living with / has family members living with addictions). Really glad that he and Hock were able to collaborate, can’t wait to see this film.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    It’s impossible for me to say too much about this movie. Truly remarkable and moving. I cried almost the entire time. Please watch it.

  • http://slamonline.com The Black Rick Kamla

    almost the entire time fam….

  • http://slamonline.com The Black Rick Kamla

    just joshin Ben, I look forward to checkin it out when I get the chance. Shamed to say I’m not very familiar with Herren at all, never seen him play even (can anyone give me a lil scouting report)… yeah but anyways you gotta realize there are consequences for your actions in life. Things take strongholds in your life when you let them. That can be drugs, or the millions of other vices out there. Its sad, but these are simply universal truths. There are consequences to our actions. It all reminds me of the Glen Bias story….I really did shed some tears when I watched that 30 for 30. Its sad stuff. Glad he’s been able to turn his life around. And I hope he’s truly found the right path.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    You’ll see

  • Steve

    Ket’s see how it plays out before we are duped by another addict. If he stays sober I’d be the first person to pat him on the back but this bullsh1t story has been told before.

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  • Jonathan Faulkner

    I’d highly recommend reading both Fall River Dreams and then Basketball Junkie. Fall River Dreams is a fantastic book in it’s own right, but really hits home when you go on to read Basketball Junkie.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    @Jonathan Faulkner: well said.

  • Heals

    Straight punch to the gut! Deep stuff and the way it was put together by Hock and Co was slick. Loved the compilation approach to his public speakings, juxaposing the shots of a cold Fall River with the narrative and how seemlessly the story progressed (unfortunately like one long “run”). Still trying to wrap my head around the immense ability one must possess to play NBA caliber ball under a number of different substances. Likewise once the body becomes accustomed to operating under certain influences it’s remarkable that it may then come to rely on those same substances to perform previously routine functions. Everyone dreams of being the hometown hero, but no one fathoms how going/being “home” is often the most difficult thing once the limelight dims…

  • ChristianBulleN

    Yeah.. watching the documentary, my stomach just turned right when they announced he was being traded to Boston. There’s a plan for all of us, hopefully Herren stays sober and can help the people around him.

  • http://bulls.com airs

    watched the doc, really really good imo.
    choked up a bit at one point, but i definitely wasn’t crying the entire time haha.

  • Honor

    It is great to see such positive feedback for one of the best players EVER out of New England. Anyone who could not respect this man for what he has done in telling his story is not a fan of the game or of this life.

  • Ryan

    where can I find this movie now?

  • http://www.cover3foundation.org Steph Wood

    This speech/story should be told to every athlete in America and beyond! A must hear and a must see.

  • Chris Blau

    Wow! I cried hard! What a great man to battle back.
    Here in Florida we need you Chris!!! We need you bro!
    My best friend is in jail. She needs help! I don’t know what to do

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