The New Chris Herren Story
By JD Biagioni
BC fans know the Chris Herren story. They witnessed the beginning of Herren’s fall from grace firsthand. They know the redemption that followed after 15-plus years of Herren’s personal hell. And now, they get to see the redemption arc come full circle with a new Herren taking to the Conte Forum hardwood.
Chris Herren Jr. has been through more than anyone should ever have to go through, but his presence on The Heights is helping to give a dark story a happy ending.
His father’s story of tragedy and later triumph is well-known. After Chris Herren Sr. arrived at Boston College in 1994 as a McDonalds All-America, drugs and alcohol destroyed his playing career and almost took his life. He has been sober since 2008 and is now a motivational speaker, sharing his story with people all over the globe. In 2011, he founded the Herren Project, a nonprofit dedicated to helping others overcome the disease that is addiction.
Growing up, wearing “Herren Jr.” on the back of his uniform wasn’t easy. People knew the story and made sure Herren Jr. knew that they knew it. And it wasn’t the kids he was playing against on the court, but rather the crowd, that taunted him.
“[The crowd] always had things to say to me,” Herren Jr. said. “Its not hard to think of something.”
Herren Jr. heard the jeers, and it affected him, but he never let it show. Early in his high school career, he was the quiet kid, going about his business on the court and trying to block out the noise. Eventually, Herren Jr. grew more comfortable with his family’s story and with the legacy that the uniform carried. The wall around his emotions on the court came down, and he was free to express himself, whether that be in the form of frustration over a missed call or excitement from nailing a big-time 3-pointer.
“I didn’t try to not be noticed just because I didn’t want people to say something to me,” Herren Jr. said.
That said, the personal attacks are still part of life as Chris Herren Jr. the basketball player. The rise of social media hasn’t made it any easier, but Herren Jr. has an admirable perspective on the criticism.
“I get people all the time that will message me hateful things, and it happens to my dad too,” Herren Jr. said. “But the way we look at it is that you can’t worry about that because 99% of things people will say to you are good and you can’t let that 1% affect you.”
He played two years of basketball for his public high school in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, before transferring to Tabor Academy, where he repeated sophomore year.
Halfway through his junior year of high school, Herren Jr. suffered a stress fracture in his lower back, causing him to miss the rest of the season, as well as AAU showcase tournaments.
While he was sitting at home in a back brace, Herren Jr. decided he wanted to go to college early. By the end of the year, he’d have completed four years of high school due to the second sophomore year that followed his transfer, so graduating early was a very achievable goal. He talked it over with his parents, took a few extra classes and placements tests, and was off to BC.
The one downside: he couldn’t walk on graduation day. Even though he graduated, he can’t receive his diploma until the end of the 2018-2019 school year.
Reclassifying meant that Herren Jr. would join the BC men’s basketball team as a walk-on. He would become a scholarship player starting sophomore year.
But Herren Jr.’s emergence early in the season meant he didn’t have to wait as long as he had expected for that scholarship. Before the team traveled to DePaul last December, Coach Jim Christian gave all of the players Christmas gift bags. Everyone got one, except Herren Jr. Instead, he got a very special Christmas gift: a scholarship.
“[Getting the scholarship] was really cool,” Herren Jr. said. “Instead of it being something I knew I was getting the next year, I got to actually celebrate it with my teammates.”
Ironically, Herren Jr., who came in having missed most of the previous season due to injury, was one of the few Eagles to stay healthy during the 2018-2019 campaign. Aside from star Ky Bowman, Herren Jr. was the only player to appear in all 31 games for the Eagles.
Herren Jr. averaged 4.3 points per game for the Eagles and finished third on the team shooting 33 percent from beyond the arc.
There’s a remarkable amount of courage that came with the decision to attend BC. It can’t be easy to look at the place where all his dad’s troubles began and say “I want to come here.”
Boston College was the first school to offer Herren Jr. a scholarship, and it meant a lot to him. While he does acknowledge that his father’s story was in the back of his mind during the decision-making process, Herren Jr. didn’t see it as a deterrent to attending BC and chose to join the Eagles because they believed in him.
Chris Herren Jr could play anywhere. Yet he's following the path that derailed his uncle and father. Brave kid. https://t.co/hT6qghErOB
— Bill Maloney (@bcatleagle) June 26, 2018
No child of an athlete has a normal childhood, but when your name is Chris Herren Jr., it is practically impossible. Herren Jr. knew his childhood was different than that of his peers, but he never compared his life to theirs. Just how different his upbringing was became clear to Herren Jr. around the time he was 14. He remembers watching the 30 for 30 about his dad’s life with his parents and sister for the first time.
“Everything was better at that point,” Herren Jr. said. “But looking back at how much we really went through, and to me I didn’t really notice it at the time, but seeing what my dad and my mom went through and at the same time I’m going to school and doing all these things, it was definitely an emotional moment.”
Herren Jr. and his family moved to Portsmouth when he was very young, but Fall River, Herren Sr.’s hometown, will always be a part of the younger Herren. Last summer, Chris Sr. and Chris Jr. posed for a photoshoot in Herren’s iconic B.M.C. Durfee number 24 jersey, a uniform that the elder Herren scored 2,073 points in during his high school career. Herren Jr. said it was cool that he and his dad got to share the experience together.
Fall River is also where Herren Jr.’s uncle Mike still resides. He also played for Boston College, suiting up in nine games for the Eagles in 1989. Despite not having a car, he still manages to make it from Fall River to Conte Forum for all of his nephew’s games. He’s the guy in Section A yelling “give the ball to number four!”
Well, he’s going to have to modify that cheer a little bit next fall, as Herren Jr. will be changing his number from 4 to 24. Twenty-four has long been in the Herren family, as it was both Herren Jr. and his father’s high school number. But now Herren Jr. will get to do something his dad never got the chance to do at BC: wear 24 for the maroon and gold. His father wore 5 during his one year at BC, before returning to 24 at Fresno State.
On and off the court, Herren Jr. is shaped by his father’s story. Basketball-wise, he says it has given him a chip on his shoulder.
“A lot people don’t believe in me, or a lot of people didn’t when I was in high school, because I’m the son of my dad,” Herren Jr. said.
More important though, is the perspective it has given him on life in general.
“It taught me how to be empathetic towards other people, because you never know what someone is going through or has been through.”
The road to Boston College hasn’t been an easy one for Chris Herren Jr. While his basketball legacy will always be connected to that of his father’s, he is crafting a new story all his own. And there’s still much to be written.