NBA / Nov 2, 2011 / 11:30 am

Unguarded: Chris Herren’s Path From Superstar To Salvation

Chris Herren

Chris Herren (photo. Rich Arden/ESPN Films)

When you look at a story, the way it is told and the driving force behind it, there are so many elements, so many moments where things could have been done differently. In ESPN’s latest film, Unguarded, director Jonathan Hock (Through the Fire, Off the Rez) goes behind the curtain and into both the highs and darkest of lows in the life of former NBA guard Chris Herren. This story, like Herren’s life, could have turned out and been told differently; but thankfully for all parties it wasn’t.

Herren’s story is one of both heartache and hope as he has been able to turn 15 years of a battle into a positive that is now helping many people. From kids to recovering addicts, the story in Unguarded is driven by Herren speaking with groups of people, as his presence both in the room and on camera is one like no other athlete I have ever seen. Hock was very honest during a Q&A following a screening in New York last week when he shared, “We got very lucky, as we weren’t sure how we wanted to tell the story. We chose to follow Chris with the camera on one of his speaking engagements, and after looking at 15 minutes of footage, we knew we had it.”

When looking at the peaks and valleys of what Herren went through, part of the amazement is the strength and support his family continued to provide him. Both his wife, Heather, and brother, Mike, play major roles – not just in this film, but in every day of Chris’ life. And to his credit, he fully realizes what he has. What makes this film so terrific is that it is brutally honest all the way through. From Coach Jerry Tarkanian nearly breaking down while introducing Chris at a function at Fresno State, to his brother Mike recounting the story of physically defending their mom in the stands at UMass, to Chris having the courage to return to the alleyway where he lay passed out after not picking up his wife and kids at the airport, Unguarded takes you through countless emotions.

Drug addiction, unless you have experienced it or been close to someone going through it, is a tough thing for most to understand. That is clearly evident throughout the film, as the ignorance of fans that taunted Herren and his family made my blood boil. On the flip side, the reactions and focus the kids, military personnel and recovering addicts that Herren was visiting with can’t help but captivate you and send chills down your spine.

From where Herren was with his addiction when joining the Celtics, to losing someone close to myself and my family because of addiction, to shaking Herren’s hand last week, Unguarded will have a separate place amongst my personal list of truly inspirational stories.

What should not be forgotten in all of this is that Herren was a terrific ballplayer. With that came great responsibility, which unfortunately at the time Herren could not handle because of addiction. It’s safe to say that he is making up for that now as a father, husband and role model. And thanks to ESPN Films, Chris Herren will become an inspiration to millions.

What do you think? What was your takeaway from the film?

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  • Detroit Dave

    He should be a speaker at Rookie Symposiums in the NFL and NBA. He would be great fit in for college and high school camps also. This was a powerful movie.

  • Sean Sweeney

    Unreal stuff. Never saw Herren play in HS but heard about him all the time playing HS in Boston. For me, the old highlights are always the best parts of stuff like this.

    Fall River Dreams was so good… has anyone read Basketball Junkie?

  • http://www.dimemag.com Aron Phillips

    Great piece, Eric.

  • http://www.geturweightup.com Chicagorilla

    Best part of the documentary to me was when Herron was playing a road game (i forget against who, maybe UMass) and the crowd was getting on him bad. Kids were chanting “REHAB REHAB REHAB” which is expected of college kids. What was surprising though were the two old men sitting front row yelling out “why don’t you go shoot up some more” to Herron. Kind of sickening to watch.

    Anyway, Herron goes off vs their team. I think Coach Tark said he had his best game. Herron at one point had a steal and a fast break dunk. After the dunk, he turns to the people heckling him in the crowd and (rather ironically considering his addiction) does the “Harlem Shake” as he runs back down court. I laughed until my face hurt and re-winded it several times.

  • Sean Sweeney

    When he was playing for the Cs, dudes used to heckle him all the time… sit behind the bench and just yell “Herren… Herren” literally the whole game. Must’ve been so annoying.

  • JM

    This was a great documentary. I remember hearing about him in HS and how he was a Mass schoolboy legend. He was great at Fresno St. Amazing to see what he was able to accomplish while an addict. To compete at such a high level while in that state is just craziness.

    Does anyone remember the reality show of sorts back in maybe ’97 or ’98 that followed the Fresno St. team?? Might have been on fox sports or something. Was pretty interesting. Followed him the year when “Skip” came on board. That team was pretty talented (Herren, Skip, Folkes, Roberson, etc.) but imploded starting with Chris going to rehab during season.

    I did love hearing how his 1 year in Denver as a rookie, how much vet’s like Nick The Quick took care of him knowing his history. Didn’t drink in front of him and just went out to dinners all year. Classy move.

    Good to see him giving back and doing his thing again. Time for him to impact the lives of kids growing up and facing temptation.

  • http://www.doinitinthepark.com Bobbito Garcia

    They can put this film on ESPN Classic right now, it’s already deserves that title!

  • Tim Long

    Read Both Books………saw everyone of his highschool games and was present at almost every game on the film……..he was my role model and a great family friend……i get into fights to this day defending him and will do so till I die……Cried through the whole movie and to top it off I already new the story inside and out as I am close witj him…..thats how good it was!