SALEM, Va. (WDBJ) -- A typically raucous Salem Civic Center crowd was silent Thursday night, as thousands gathered to hear the story of former McDonalds All-American and NBA player Chris Herren.
"I started playing at five years old in the driveway, having no idea that it would lead me to the Boston Celtics," Herren said before Thursday's speech. "So, basketball has played a huge role in my life."
At one point, Herren was one of the most highly-touted high school prospects in the nation; but he didn't come to Salem to brag about his ability on the hardwood.
Instead, he shared the story of his personal struggles with substance abuse and addiction, how it ruined his career, tore his family apart and nearly ended his life.
"I've been living in recovery for almost 12 years, and that message is important and it's gonna' be shared," he said.
Now sober for 11.5 years, Herren travels the country sharing the story of his own collapse so that others might avoid the same fate.
"I started speaking 10 years ago. I do roughly 250 events a year. It's a beautiful thing. It's a blessing, and obviously my favorite audience is kids," Herren said. "I think it's an important message. I think it's something that they need to hear and when it comes to my message, especially with kids, it's about the first day, not the worst day.
"There's such a stigma attached to this illness. I was shooting heroin for eight years. Multiple overdoses. From the outside looking in, everything was broken. Recovery has given me everything in my life that I need, that I want. It's the greatest gift I've ever given my family and it's changed everything about me. No matter how far you're down, how low, there's a way up and it's a beautiful process if you embrace it."
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