Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Chris Herren: "Unguarded"

Some people meditate. I got the pot sink. This is where I found myself.
--Chris Herren

What's valor? Maybe a better question is, what's valorized?

About six months ago, fellow hoop head Johnny S and I were talking and he mentioned the Jonathan Hock, ESPN 30 for 30 doc on Chris Herren, Unguarded. As someone who's been following hoops all my life I knew the surface story about Herren, but when Johnny told me about this flick I made that mental note that sticks.

It's not a great story insofar as surprise, mystery or forecasting. In fact, it's the classic predictable tragedy made right and triumph, much like The Pursuit of Happiness. Yet it's really moving, and credit goes to Hock, who edits Unguarded masterfully, weaving different presentations by the now clean Herren deftly to  various audiences: youth, druggies and cons.

This story formula could have easily sunk to pandering, and the truth is that the major credit must be paid to Herren who deals straight and with the voice of the real behind him, exerting a solid undercurrent that builds empathy.

The coda has his current life in stride; wife and kids, the fans who loved, then  reviled and now respect him, all back on board. That of course is a great thing, but for me, the most moving parts of stories where people triumph over adversity are those moments, those turning points, where a crossroad is approached. For  Malcolm, it was lying in prison, his mind coming alive through books. With Herren, his was also a punishment; having to wash dishes in solitary, the pot sink room, for hours on end. It's where he was alone with the biggest hurdle; himself.

It gets better, and speaks to a rare quality in individuals, the ability to introspect, to really get down and look at yourself. He speaks in the coda about how one day he noticed something about his behavior, that where once before, for years on end, he'd taken his shaver and toothbrush into the shower, but all of a sudden with sobriety, he'd stopped.

And in an insight that speaks as much to psychology as to that ability to really observe yourself, he said that now he was able to look at himself in the mirror.