When you look at a story, the way it is told and the driving force behind it, there are so many elements, so many moments where things could have been done differently. In ESPN’s latest film, Unguarded, director Jonathan Hock (Through the Fire, Off the Rez) goes behind the curtain and into both the highs and darkest of lows in the life of former NBA guard Chris Herren. This story, like Herren’s life, could have turned out and been told differently; but thankfully for all parties it wasn’t.
Herren’s story is one of both heartache and hope as he has been able to turn 15 years of a battle into a positive that is now helping many people. From kids to recovering addicts, the story in Unguarded is driven by Herren speaking with groups of people, as his presence both in the room and on camera is one like no other athlete I have ever seen. Hock was very honest during a Q&A following a screening in New York last week when he shared, “We got very lucky, as we weren’t sure how we wanted to tell the story. We chose to follow Chris with the camera on one of his speaking engagements, and after looking at 15 minutes of footage, we knew we had it.”
When looking at the peaks and valleys of what Herren went through, part of the amazement is the strength and support his family continued to provide him. Both his wife, Heather, and brother, Mike, play major roles – not just in this film, but in every day of Chris’ life. And to his credit, he fully realizes what he has. What makes this film so terrific is that it is brutally honest all the way through. From Coach Jerry Tarkanian nearly breaking down while introducing Chris at a function at Fresno State, to his brother Mike recounting the story of physically defending their mom in the stands at UMass, to Chris having the courage to return to the alleyway where he lay passed out after not picking up his wife and kids at the airport, Unguarded takes you through countless emotions.
Drug addiction, unless you have experienced it or been close to someone going through it, is a tough thing for most to understand. That is clearly evident throughout the film, as the ignorance of fans that taunted Herren and his family made my blood boil. On the flip side, the reactions and focus the kids, military personnel and recovering addicts that Herren was visiting with can’t help but captivate you and send chills down your spine.
From where Herren was with his addiction when joining the Celtics, to losing someone close to myself and my family because of addiction, to shaking Herren’s hand last week, Unguarded will have a separate place amongst my personal list of truly inspirational stories.
What should not be forgotten in all of this is that Herren was a terrific ballplayer. With that came great responsibility, which unfortunately at the time Herren could not handle because of addiction. It’s safe to say that he is making up for that now as a father, husband and role model. And thanks to ESPN Films, Chris Herren will become an inspiration to millions.
What do you think? What was your takeaway from the film?
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