Hoop Dreams Deferred: The Sad Tale of Chris Herren
Published: Monday, December 4, 2006
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Once upon a time, in a place where dreams are within reach, there was a kid who loved to play basketball. He did not play to garner college scholarship offers or to make the cover of Sports Illustrated with Allen Iverson.
He did not play for the fame or the free gear. He played because basketball was in his blood, from his father Al to his brother Michael. He played because he hated to lose.
He played because he loved the sublime feeling of stroking a jumper and the frenzied atmosphere of a packed high school gym.
He played because he had always played. But he played, most importantly, because he loved the game.
That love was too much a part of him to ever change.
Unfortunately, everything else would.
Long before Akida McLain and Sean Williams were repeatedly violating Boston College basketball team rules, there was a recruit from Fall River, Mass. who ran into problems at the Heights.
Chris Herren came to BC in the fall of 1994 as one of the most ballyhooed schoolboy legends in Massachusetts state basketball history. If you enjoyed Friday Night Lights, then read Fall River Dreams by Bill Reynolds.
Written in a similar vein, Fall River Dreams chronicles the tumultuous personal journey of Herren and his team's senior season at Durfee High School. As relentless as he is on the court, Reynolds reveals that he is similarly stubborn off of it, refusing to heed the advice of his tough-love coach.
Slow to mature, even slower to envision a future beyond Fall River, Herren ultimately chose to attend BC.
Yes, before Al Skinner was finding "diamonds in the rough" such as Troy Bell, Craig Smith, and Jared Dudley, former coach Jim O'Brien had landed a nationally recruited stud to play at the Heights. The excitement was palpable, and high expectations were thrust upon the young guard.
Herren was tough, he was talented, and he was white. Suffice it to say, he was anointed a savior before ever stepping foot onto the Conte Forum court.
The dream of the local star extending his legacy at BC did not unfold as most envisioned.
Herren played in one game his freshman year before breaking his wrist and missing the remainder of the season.
He reportedly ran into a series of disciplinary problems at BC that prompted him to transfer to Fresno State after the year. The point guard with great playmaking ability and an incorrigible will to win had suddenly fled for the West Coast.
Was he trying to escape unfair expectations heaped upon him by a rabid fan base?
Was he trying to evade his own shadow? Or was he simply trying to just disappear for awhile and reclaim what he loved, and what had once been so simple?
Herren enjoyed a star-crossed career at Fresno State, finishing second on the school's career assists list while dodging rumors of point shaving. His brilliant play made him a second-round draft choice by the Denver Nuggets, but he played sparingly in the NBA with brief stints on the Nuggets and Celtics.
In December 2004, Herren was charged with possession of heroin and driving under the influence with a revoked license in a Dunkin' Donuts parking lot in Portsmouth, RI.
What, if anything, is there to be learned from this story? Beyond conjuring up raw feelings of compassion and sympathy, perhaps we can all take a few lessons to heart.
For the fans, let us remember that when we enter Conte Forum or Alumni Stadium or Shea Field, we are still cheering kids.
They are not immune from criticism; but more importantly, they are entitled to our support and understanding.
High expectations are crucial to building great programs, but they do not supersede what matters most.
For BC basketball players in particular, let us hope that they seize the opportunities in front of them and learn from mistakes of the past. College-aged kids are not going to make all the right decisions; they also, however, are not indestructible.
Basketball is a gift, not a given.
Let us all follow our dreams with dignity and passion, for if we don't, they may dry up, or they may explode.