Very few speakers can hold an audience's attention as tightly as former Boston Celtics basketball star Chris Herren can.
And it's not his dazzling jump shots or layups wowing spectators, either.
He left basketball over a decade ago following years of being addicted to a slew of drugs including alcohol, and since 2010, he has been relaying the often very graphic details of his story spanning roughly 15 years of addiction before groups comprised of high school students, teachers, and parents.
The event held inside Northampton Community College's Kopecek Hall's Lipkin Theater drew a near capacity crowd of 350 professors, parents, and students, including nearly 80 male student athletes who filed into the theater as a group wearing uniform shirts representing the school's fall sports teams.
Sponsored primarily by the Northampton County Dept. of Human Services' Drug and Alcohol Division, Herren was introduced by County Executive Lamont McClure who commented, "We need to create a web of healing throughout the county and help folks recover from substance abuse."
Herren delivered the highlights of his life, including his introduction to cocaine at Boston College during a highly-focused and attention-grabbing one-hour talk. All that could be heard besides Herren's voice with its characteristic New England accent was the occasional quiet gasp or sniffle from crying eyes. He cited specific incidents for instance one time when remaining with his wife in the hospital after the birth of their youngest son Drew, he ducked out to grab a pint of vodka at a local liquor store.
At age 32, and following the birth of his younger son Drew, Herren's wife promised him unless he got sober permanently and the addiction insanity ceased, he would never see any of his children again.
Herren explained his reasons why he began drinking and smoking pot on the weekends even while in high school. These included his parent's split, pressure for basketball success, succumbing to peer pressure, and his mother's death from cancer at 26.
He relayed specific anecdotes concerning how he was introduced to drugs such as Oxycontin and heroine during various stages of his life and career. Some of these included relapses during which former high school friends would reappear to sell him drugs and profit from his ongoing addiction to them.
These days after 11 years of sobriety, Herren stays squarely on the recovery wagon by working the twelve step program of the Alcoholics Anonymous, going to meetings, having faith in God, and doing what he's told by his sponsor.
Posing a set of thought-provoking questions to the audience he asked, "Why as parents and teachers aren't we building emotional intelligence and intellectual growth for our children?" Also, "Why aren't our kids educated or aware of the full spectrum?", and lastly, "Why aren't wellness, addiction, and recovery part of our biology curriculum?"
He believes "hovering" over teens is the wrong path to addressing substance abuse. He recommends sitting down with a teen suspected of using and simply asking, "Why are you using drugs---please tell me why?" His signature question to youth is, "Why the drugs, why can't you just be yourself?"
Herren confirmed he would use this approach with his own children. He pointed out his eldest son, Chris Jr., 20, a junior at Boston College, the school which bounced his dad after testing positive for drug use, and his daughter Samantha, 18, have both elected to live drug- and alcohol-free lifestyles.
Regarding his namesake Chris Jr., his father notes, being drug- and alcohol-free is "in his heart, it's in his bones."
"During the past eleven years of recovery, I've become the father I wished I'd had," he remarked.
Lastly, Herren pointed out, "Recovery gives you a competitive edge in life as there are no days off and no time outs."
He makes over 200 appearances annually and opened a rehabilitation and wellness center in Seekonk, Mass. in 2017.
A second rehabilitation and wellness center is expected to open this fall in Warrenton, Va.