A sobering tale for Murphy, UF


Chris Herren, left, holds up a Nuggets jersey at a news conference after being selected in the second round of the '99 NBA draft. At right is Denver's first round selection, James Posey. (The Associated Press)

Published: Monday, October 31, 2011 at 11:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 31, 2011 at 11:26 p.m.

Each day passes. Sobriety teaches you to accept what you cannot change, and Chris Herren has accepted his place in basketball.

So when Herren worked out with Florida forward Erik Murphy over the summer in Rhode Island, it was about more than just getting a college player ready for his junior season.

It was about giving back. And it was therapeutic.

“You can't keep it unless you give it away,” Herren said. “If I can help one person through my experiences, than that to me is worth more than any article or any trophy.”

Herren's story is a cautionary tale of reaching the highest level of basketball and indulging in the vices that come with it. A former McDonald's All-American point guard from Fall River, Mass., the 6-foot-2 Herren played college basketball at Boston College and Fresno State before being selected in the second round of the NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets.

But during and after two seasons with the Nuggets and Boston Celtics, Herren traveled down a long, dark path of addiction. Drinking escalated to marijuana which escalated to cocaine and then to Oxycontin and heroin.

Herren said he couldn't pinpoint a specific low point. In 2004, he was arrested in Rhode Island for possession of heroin and driving under the influence.

“I was in a low point for about seven years,” Herren said. “What should have been the lowest point kept getting lower. Handcuffs, jail cells, the emotional pain that I put my family through.”

What Herren said hurt his family the most was relapsing after leaving a treatment facility.

“I thought I had it covered,” Herren said. “I had to kind of soul search to see if I had it in me to become sober.”

Sober since 2008, Herren's story will be chronicled tonight in an ESPN Films presentation entitled “Unguarded.” Herren also has written a book “Basketball Junkie”, which documents his career on and off the court.

Herren now speaks at college campuses throughout the country, discussing the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction. Florida coach Billy Donovan invited Herren to speak to the UF men's basketball team two months ago.

“I spoke with them for about an hour,” Herren said. “The message was my message. I give Billy a lot of credit. He wants his players to see what is out there, of what you can be exposed to and the choices that you can make.”

Donovan first met Herren when he went to watch him play at Providence in the 1980s. He recruited Herren as an assistant at Kentucky and helped him train for his first NBA season early in his coaching career at Florida.

“It's an incredible story of a guy that really overcame, fought addiction, battled addiction and what he has been through,” Donovan said. “And I think just his message to our guys or any team is really, really valuable. I think in the game of basketball, he can really help a lot of people.”

Murphy's father, former Boston College and NBA forward Jay Murphy, approached Herren to mentor his son over the summer. Murphy was arrested last April with teammate Cody Larson outside of a bar in St. Augustine for allegedly trying to break into a car. As part of his plea deal on misdemeanor criminal trespass charges, Murphy underwent a substance abuse evaluation and cannot drink alcohol or use controlled substances for one year.

“I told Erik, if that's the worst mistake that he makes than he's lived a pretty good life,” Herren said. “If he can turn this mistake around and use it for a positive, and I think Erik will, he will be great. Erik, I care about as a person more than a basketball player and I think he will handle this and learn from it.”

Murphy said he learned a great deal from Herren both on and off the court.

“He's been great with me, working-out wise and helping me out,” Murphy said. “He had a lot of issues and then I had my little bump in the spring, too. So he's helped me out with that too, so has my family, coach, everybody else.”

Murphy said Herren's workouts have helped put him in the best shape of his career.

“His workouts are crazy,” Murphy said. “He kills you. You can't even walk out of there by the time you were done with him.”

Said Herren: “They were intense and Erik played at a high level. More importantly, it was just nice to spend time with him as a person.”

Herren said he's had a chance to watch a pre-screening of “Unguarded” a few weeks ago. He said he put great trust in director Jonathan Hock, whom he now considers a lifelong friend.

“I was able to sit down and watch it with my 12-year-old son,” Herren said. “It was a very, very healing moment to sit down to watch it. We were able to cry together and to laugh together. I hope in some way through my experiences I can give back to others.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top