ESPN documentary “Unguarded” sheds light on athlete’s addiction, rehab

Most professional basketball players certainly enjoy a life of luxury thanks to huge paychecks, gigantic homes, fast cars and gorgeous groupies, but Chris Herren very well be the poster child for the notion that money and fame can’t buy happiness.

Herren seemed to have everything going for him, beginning with a heralded high school career in Massachusetts to an NBA career with the Denver Nuggets and his hometown Boston Celtics. Sandwiched in between was a stellar career at Boston College and Fresno State. But as we learn tonight (8pm ET) on the ESPN documentary Unguarded, not everything was as it seemed.

Herren’s life was being controlled by drugs, which led him to rehab. This documentary by director Jonathan Hock relies on interviews with Herren’s family, friends and coaches to paint a picture of what the former hoops star has been through over the past 15 years (the last three of which have reportedly been sober).

“The story of Chris Herren is the story of hope,” Hock says. “He has reclaimed his family and the love and respect of the community. Ultimately, it was only after Chris lost the game that was supposed to be his salvation that he found his life’s true meaning … Self-respect and the love of family are the greatest rewards we can claim. And that can be much harder to achieve than hitting the big shot or winning the big game.”

Former NBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist Chris Mullin became friends with Herren after being introduced by current NBA great Steve Nash. Mullin is a recovering alcoholic, and provides invaluable insight on his disease and relationship with Herren.

“We had similar experiences, it was an immediate bond,” Mullin says of their friendship. “I’ve gone through alcohol rehab myself. Addiction is a disease that gets worse over time. It’s not really scientific. Every person has their own course when they actually surrender, but it’s hard to explain to someone that hasn’t already been through it, so the ideal person to share with is someone who’s been through it.”

And it’s that sentiment that Hoch hopes will resonate with ESPN viewers tonight. If Herren’s story helps one addict come to grips with their illness, then he will consider his work a tremendous success.