Chris Herren was a former star under Jerry Tarkanian at Fresno State University, playing alongside NBA lifer Rafer Alston. Following his troubled time there, he moved on to a checkered NBA career that really wasn't representative of his gifts as a point guard. The guy could slash, pass and shoot. If everything worked as it should, he should still be a fringe NBA player. Heroin got in the way.
Heroin is something else altogether. I don't need to point to other drugs or influences before starting with an opening like that, because anyone with anything resembling a passing understanding of things that alter your functional abilities knows that opiates are, well, something else altogether.
So when we hear about NBA players smoking or drinking too much, we can kind of understand it. You try waking up at 4 in the afternoon to then run around for hours in front of thousands, then eating dinner at midnight, only to be asked to force yourself to sleep in a strange bed to make shootaround a few hours later. You're a bit wired, and as long as they don't drive around, you can tolerate their need to settle down. Even if one way of settling down is, technically, illegal.
In the rare case where NBA players are caught using stimulants? Though working on a felony level, I can understand it. For one, they have the money. Secondly? Endorphins produce a high. And acting as one of 450 people in North America that can classify themselves as an active NBA player is, without a doubt, a self-serving rush. Toss in the designations that follow (a contributor, a starter, a star, an All-Star, the guy that won the game tonight), and you should understand the brain's need to sustain that rush, no matter the cost.
But heroin? The one that makes you fall asleep? The one that kills all those people? The one that you never seem to get over? That is entirely something else.
And Chris Herren's book excerpt, taken from SLAM Magazine, is as harrowing as heroin stories usually get. I'm actually quoting one of the nicer, less-detailed passages, because it works as a summation. You really do need to go read the rest.
People think that when you're doing drugs you're high all the time, out partying. They think you're having fun. That's not it at all. You're not having fun. You're in hell. Without the dope I would be "dope sick," so sick that I couldn't do anything, couldn't even get up. I'd be in a fetal position. You have the sweats one minute, and you're freezing cold the next. It's like having the flu with restless legs, because you can't control them. They're kickin' all over the place. You also can't sleep more than 15 minutes at a time. You wake up in the morning and there's no blanket, no sheets, the mattress is sideways. And when it gets bad, you want to ram your head into the headboard.
With the dope I could function, if you want to call it that. I could drive a car. I could mow the lawn. I could be something of a husband, something of a father. When I pictured a heroin addict before I became one, I saw someone emaciated, someone nodding off. That wasn't it with me, not in the beginning, anyway. I didn't do it to get high. I did it to function. By the time I got to heroin I was so far gone on OxyContin that the dope became medicine, something that made me feel good enough to be able to get through a day.
It's too cheap to point to Jason Williams' career, and tell you that Herren could have been Jason Williams. Mostly because, I (like, hopefully, most of you) hate the practice of comparing every white player to every other white player that came before them. But also because that comparison seems too simple.
Herren was thick. He could handle work in the paint that Williams never tried. He could take contact coming off of screens, and he could make the simple-yet-needed pass. He was an NBA talent. Not an All-Star, but also certainly not what he became. Maybe that's the limited NCAA-nik in me (for some reason, I've always been drawn to tumblin' teams; and that era's Fresno State and University of Cincinnati teams remain my all-time favorites), but Herren deserves better.
And heroin, as it usually does, deserves a flush down the toilet.
Which we hear is easier said than done.