OCEAN CITY - At a time when attention spans seem short and people play seemingly nonstop with their cellphones, a group of about 250 people inside the Ocean City High School gym listened intently to Chris Herren's story.
It was sad, uplifting and moving.
But it was a poignant way to reach people and Herren will speak today at an assembly to the high school's students. On Thursday, he gave a preview to many of their parents and members of the community.
"It's been quite a journey. I decided to go around the country telling this story thinking I was going to give back," said Herren, 36, who played in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics. "I had no idea what I was going to receive from this."
Herren talks about his fall from basketball candidly. He played in the NBA for two seasons, 1999-200 and 2001, and then in Europe for seven teams.
He doesn't hold back about how his life spiraled out of control and he nearly died from drug and alcohol abuse. He started his story from the first moment he tried cocaine. He talked about everything from sleeping behind a Dumpster and leaving his family behind to being left for dead.
Herren grew up in good environment in Massachusetts. His father was in politics, his mother worked in corporate America. He was a basketball star in high school with what looked to be the whole world ahead of him.
"People would brush off incidents saying it's just a phase," Herren said. "I always told myself it would never happen to me."
Herren said he even laughed when at Boston College, which he attended his freshman year before getting kicked out for failing three drug tests, he sat through a similar presentation from a former athlete who had gotten addicted to drugs. The whole time, Herren made fun of the presenter, saying he would never be like him.
Instead, Herren eventually ended up in the ghettos of Italy, Turkey and Iran looking for heroin.
Herren, who co-wrote the book "Basketball Junkie: A Memoir" about his life, doesn't hold back in his presentations for fear of losing impact.
"It was pretty intense," said Julia Duggan, 16, a junior on the Red Raiders' girls basketball team. "I have never heard a story like that before. It was a lot to take in."
Throughout high school, Julia Duggan and her sister Emily, 18, have heard the don't-do-drug speeches, which are given at all high schools around the country. But hearing the story from someone who lived through addiction was different.
"We hear them all the time, but I think especially as an athlete and hearing his story of how he had everything and then lost everything, I think it really hits home," said Emily, of Upper Township. "He's young. He's a superstar and all the kids looked up to him. I think it really makes an impact when he's talking in front of you instead of the 'don't do drugs.' "
After Herren's hour-long speech, he held a question-and-answer session that turned into a sharing session for some audience members. There weren't many questions, but many people spoke about their own battles with drugs or alcohol.
One man mentioned he has been alcohol-free for eight months and wanted to go to Herren's speech after seeing the ESPN documentary "Unguarded" about Herren's journey to sobriety.
"I thank AA, God and your film for changing my life," said the man who didn't want to be identified. "I watched it with my father and it really meant a lot to me."
Herren's detailed description of his life, which included moments of begging for change just to scrounge enough money for drugs, was such an important lesson that Mark Grimes brought his middle-school aged daughter to the presentation.
His two children in high school will hear it today.
"That story is heart-wrenching and every high school kid in America should listen to that story," Grimes, of Upper Township, said.
"I saw the story on ESPN. I kind of already knew it, but you hear more the second time that you didn't hear on TV."
Contact Susan Lulgjuraj: