Let Chris say what he wants -- and play ball

Not far from something called the Maritime Heritage Trail, with its red, white and blue stripes down the middle of Bedford Street in Fall River, sits a nondescript white building with shutters on the windows and without any signs. It could very well be somebody's house but it is, in fact, a popular local watering-hole called the Belmont Club. Quiet as it's kept, it is here where Fall River sports aficionados gather to chew the fat and get the skinny. The crusty ol' bird ordered The King of Beers because, he let everyone know, he drinks only the best. Then he began to tenderly contemplate basketball and the Meaning of Life. "What a bunch of (bleepin') bull(bleep)," he said aloud to whoever would listen. "This is a (bleepin') disgrace." Funny thing was, everyone did listen. In Fall Reev-a, everyone does when it comes to former Durfee and current Fresno State star Chris Herren. Hours before the big nationally televised game between Fresno State and UMass last night, talk was centered on a Page 1 story in The Standard-Times and the now-famous Fresno State coach Jerry Tarkanian quote: "Chris tells me Fall River's got the highest unemployment in the East. Chris tells me that all they do is drink all day and fight all night." And the crusty ol' bird wasn't too happy about it. "Oh, yeah, I heard about that," he said. "Are you (bleepin') kiddin' me? The kid's got all the (bleepin') moves. He don't need to hang around the (bleepin') bad crowd." Some people call them the Highland Brats. They grew up in the economically advantaged area of Fall Reev-a called the Highlands. They went to Durfee High. Their parents drive around in BMWs. Other people will tell you that they are a bunch of good kids who aren't the type to forget where they came from. No matter what you call them, Chris Herren and his brother Michael before him were the Kings of Durfee in a basketball-crazy town. "This is a tough place to get a (bleepin') job," said the bartender. "The kids come home, there's nothing for them here. So then they start (bleepin') around. They get in trouble." "We wish the best for them," chimed in the man with the striped tie, "but they can't make it here. They got to get the (bleep) out. The politicians don't (bleepin') listen. "All tough towns have tough kids. They make it sound like a big (bleepin') deal. It's no different in New Bedford." Suddenly, a dozen young adults poured into the tiny bar moments before leaving in a caravan for Amherst. Chris Herren's hyperactive older brother, Mike, was among them. Nobody ordered a beer. So much for drinking all day. "Chris did drink too much," Mike Herren said. "More importantly, he knew he did and he took steps to rectify that. Maybe kids in Fall River do drink too much, but every other city is the same way. "Let me tell you something -- you have to listen to the young people. Politicians don't listen. They are more worried about spin control and making themselves look good. Mayor Lambert shouldn't be caught up in what a 20-year-old kid said. He should be concentrating on things like crime and economic development. Our fastest-growing industry is the fast-food business. That's not economic development to me. "The Herrens don't love anything more than we do Fall River. Do kids in Fall River drink disproportionately to kids in the suburbs? Maybe. Do they drink more than in a city the same size as New Bedford? Probably not." And he's probably right. Chris Herren has done volunteer work for The Boys Club, St. Vincent, Holy Name Parish, among others. He's given back to the community. Apparently, he has his act back together. By all accounts, he's clean and sober and his grades are up there where they belong. And it probably is a good idea to avoid the hometown crowd that could trigger a relapse. So, if you want to criticize Chris, say that he didn't shoot well or didn't concentrate on defense on a particular night, but never say he meant any disrespect for Fall River. Leave the kid alone. Or as they'll tell you in the Spindle City, just let him play (bleepin') ball.


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