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Austin American-Statesman Cedric Golden column

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 18, 2013 at 11:49 pm •  Published: July 18, 2013

Chris Herren told his story at the LBJ Presidential Library.

And young people heard him.

I’m hopeful they listened.

Drugs are running rampant on our streets and on our high school and college campuses, and people like Herren are helping our nation wage what some believe to be an unwinnable war.

Kudos to the Texas athletic department, The Last Resort Recovery Center and the UT Center for Students in Recovery for putting on an absolutely amazing event involving Herren. This was more important than any sporting contest. Lives are at stake and some may have been saved Wednesday night.

These days, Herren, 37, calls himself an extremely blessed person. He’s that rare former NBA player who treats his short time in the league as a blessing.

“I’m grateful it didn’t last long because I would probably be dead,” he told me a few days ago. “With the money these guys are making now, I wouldn’t have been around for very long.”

The subject of the gritty ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Unguarded,” Herren is a self-described open book who doesn’t hesitate to reach back into the darkest corners of his past to counsel others. Austin is one of the 200-plus cities he will visit in a typical year.

He was unplugged Wednesday. The former McDonald’s All-American described his first semester at Boston College and that first line of cocaine he snorted at age 18, succumbing to peer pressure in the same community that was rocked by the cocaine-induced death of Boston Celtics rookie Len Bias years earlier.

“I had no idea that one line of coke would take 14 years to get away from,” he said.

He failed a drug test the next day and two more over the next four months, leading to his dismissal from school and a second chance at Fresno State, where he also battled a cocaine problem.

He talked about that first Oxycontin pill he bought from a “friend” for $20 after his first NBA season and the resulting $25,000-a-month habit that followed.

He recalled the night of his second start with the Celtics when he waded through fans entering the Fleet Center to meet up with his drug dealer just five minutes before tipoff.

He talked about the night eight years after that game when he slept behind a dumpster in downtown Modesto, Calif., while his wife and kids were waiting to pick him up at the Oakland airport, some 70 miles away.

Today he has earned his family’s forgiveness after 17 years of drug addiction, seven felony charges, multiple heroin overdoses and a suicide attempt at age 27.

Hard drugs took away his livelihood and nearly cost him his life, but he finally got clean with the help of NBA Hall of Famer Chris Mullin, who paid for his stay in rehab.

“August 1, 2008,” he told the audience. “That’s my sobriety day.”

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