Craig Ehlo is known for a shot he didn’t shoot.
If you’re a sports fan, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the Michael Jordan shot, the double-pumper at the foul line that sent the Cleveland Cavaliers home in the 1989 Eastern Conference playoffs. Ehlo defended Jordan on that play – one that would define his career for all the wrong reasons.
People know that. What they probably don’t know, however, is that Ehlo has fought another silent and not-so-silent battle in his life: addiction.
Ehlo, who battled back pain toward the end of his 14-year NBA career, had surgeries in 2003 and 2007, which proved to be more like band-aid than long-term fixes. Thus, in 2010, Ehlo had two six-inch rods, three spacers and two plates put in his back. He was immobile for months and was given a prescription for Hydrocodone.
You probably know where this is going.
By 2013, Ehlo was popping more than a dozen Hydrocodone a day.
And then he met Chris Herren, who has become – justifiably so – the poster boy for recovery and redemption.
“Oh my gosh, it’s been amazing,” Ehlo said on Ferrall on the Bench. “I knew a little bit about his story, but he was in Spokane, Wash., where I reside now and he came to speak at Hoopfest – and what a powerful message. I saw Unguarded on “30 for 30,” but when it’s in live color and Chris is telling it with the passion he tells the story with, it blew me out of the water. And at that point, I had not admitted to myself that I had any kind of an addiction problem, but just hearing that was pretty amazing. And then lo and behold, about two years after that, I ran into some trouble with the addiction.”
Long story short: Ehlo started a fire in his home and wound up in jail.
Herren reached out to Ehlo’s oldest son, Austin, a college student at Eastern Washington. Together, they helped Ehlo into a treatment facility.
“(Herren) was always calling,” said Ehlo, who completed a 30-day program. “He was checking on me all the time. Just very influential in every part of my treatment during that time and obviously now in the after care. I’m constantly checking in with him or (he’s) checking in with me. He’s a powerful, powerful man. I can’t believe he was brought into my life right before I really admitted I had any kind of an addiction problem. So it definitely (changed my life).”
Scott Ferrall then discussed his own history of addiction. He began drinking and drugging in college but became addicted to painkillers after a series of surgeries. He would pop pills like candy but eventually came clean. He called it the “hardest thing I ever did in my life.”
“I had the same scenario,” Ehlo said. “Same thing was happening to me. Everybody was telling me, ‘You got to stop. The doctor stopped prescribing.’ And I was just like, ‘You don’t understand. My body is yelling for this. If I don’t have it, it’s going to hurt and I don’t want to go through that.’ That’s what made me start searching just like yourself on the street for it.”
Ferrall called addiction to painkillers “demonic.” It completely takes possession of you, and it took possession of Ehlo, who knew he needed help. So he got it. And now he’s clean.
“That was kind of easy,” Ehlo said. “The toughest part has been the mental process, where your mind keeps telling you that you want it. That’s what I’m working on right now. Fortunately, I’ve got friends (who) are very supportive that help me through those days where it’s not so much the physical craving anymore; it’s the mind game that it plays with you.”
Ehlo, 52, now has a much better relationship with his wife and children.
“I (had become) an isolated person,” Ehlo said. “I hid myself from them. I didn’t do things with them. So that was what was really strange. Now all of a sudden, I (started) to sit down with them at the dinner table. I go on walks with my wife (and) the dogs where we talk and we try to (discuss) our feelings. The drugs kept me from doing that. It’s been great – finally getting back to (the way it was).”