LOS ANGELES -- Chris Herren was a highly touted basketball player when he was young. But his time at Boston College, Fresno State and the Boston Celtics became tainted by a decade-long addiction to cocaine, OxyContin and heroin.
"The tough times that my family went through, my children went through, I went through, it became a family illness," Herren says.
Emmy-winning filmmaker Jonathan Hock became interested in the rise and fall of Herren because sports didn't help him defeat his drug addiction.
"We tend to look to sports to provide the stage for redemption in life. And for Chris, it was when he gave up his sport where he was able to find his redemption. And that twist was very compelling to me," Hock says.
It was so compelling, Hock agreed to direct "Unguarded," the latest in ESPN's documentary series "30 for 30."
Hock compares Herren's story to the documentary he made on the life of football player Marcus Dupree. His ESPN documentary, "The Best That Never Was," showed how Dupree was one of the top prospects as a high school and college player, but he never lived up to those great expectations.
Herren -- who's been sober for more than three years -- agreed to the documentary because he wanted to shed more light on drug addiction and the recovery process. It was the same reason he co-wrote "Basketball Junkie: A Memoir" with Bill Reynolds, which documents his career on and off the court.
"No matter what depths you go to in life, if you give up, you can get up. And I think that's the beauty of this film," he says. "I think there's a lot of people out there. I don't care if the book sells another copy. I've received enough emails from people struggling in their addiction that have thanked me for it. So the book is a blessing."
Herren sees the documentary film as the next step in his continuing battle with drug addiction.
Hock's biggest surprise while shooting the documentary--partially filmed in Fresno, Calif.,--was how willing Herren was to open up about the darkest moments in his life, including waking up on a street in Modesto next to two homeless men after a long drug binge.
"A big part of Chris' life today is sharing his story of despair and redemption with other people. And what we found when we started filming was that we were able to go to very, very dark places and this kind of therapeutic environment that we found that was really fascinating and really energetic," Hock says. "So we're able to tell a very positive present-tense story by going to some very dark places in the past which we were not expecting to be able to do the way it turned out."
These days, Herren spends his time talking to youth groups and running a sports camp in Rhode Island.
He considers his three years of sobriety a miracle, considering how far he'd fallen. That's why he can look back at the darkness that once enveloped his life.
"The beauty of this film for me is I can go back to those moments," Herren says.
"I can walk back to where I woke up on a side street in Modesto, after being locked up, and woke up by two homeless men. I can go back there and look at that spot and know that that's a moment that turned my life around and embrace it. The beauty of doing this documentary is that I can go back to those dark moments and shed some light on them and see some peace in them."