SUMMARY: Chris Jenkins almost lost everything, but with God on his side, he knew his battles were not his alone.

"To let you know how far I've come, let me tell you where I've been."

This was the first time he has ever told his story and he knew it would not be the last. He didn't have anything to hide. With that in mind, he continued.

"I was 19 years old when I decided to forgo my junior and senior years in college to enter the NBA. I thought I was ready to go pro. I knew I would be a high draft pick because my college team had just won its second straight NCAA Men's Basketball championship and I was the starting forward on said team. My home life was not that great. My dad had never been a vital presence in my life and my mother, for as long as I can remember, had worked 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. She never really had time for me. The little time that she did have was spent sleeping. My mother and I were never close. We lived in a small trailer in a terrible neighborhood. I hated being home alone, so I spent a good amount of my time at my paternal grandmother's house. She lived about 15 minutes away from my mother and I. The other portion of my time was spent playing basketball. Now as I look back," He said thoughtfully. "I think the reason I was so eager to enter the NBA was because I wanted my mom, my grandmother and I to have a better life."

He paused and looked out at the packed auditorium. Hundreds, if not thousands, of curious faces stared back at him. After about a minute, he spoke again and continued his story.

"I went to the Philadelphia 76ers as the 4th overall pick in the NBA draft that year. Almost immediately, I became a multi-millionaire. My contract combined with all of my endorsements put me at least at 100 million dollars for the next 7 years. I moved my mother to a nice big 3 story mansion in the suburbs and told her that she never had to work again. My grandmother didn't see the point of living in a large house alone. And because of that, I moved her into a modest 2-bedroom house in an average middle class neighborhood. She was content in that. "

He smiled a little.

"For the first couple of months of the NBA season, I was having the time of my life. I was the team's star player and on my way to becoming the NBA's Rookie of the Year. The local media and fans loved me. I went out and partied every single night. I often got drunk and high. Because I was still very young and mentally a kid, I was very naïve. I thought I was invincible. 'There's no way I'll ever get hooked on this stuff' I thought. However, I was very wrong.

I was spending money like crazy. My need for crack had suddenly started to get out of control. No longer could I go two weeks, much less two days, without getting high. I knew I had a problem, but I didn't care. Satisfying my cravings was much more important. Around that time, I had reconnected with my high school sweetheart, Brittany. She was the only light in my life during those dark days. Still, she was not enough to make me want to change my errant ways. After about two weeks of dating, we moved in together. She knew about my addictions, but she still wanted to live with me."

He looked down at the podium in shame.

"Brittany used to take the keys from me at night. Despite of that, going out to get drunk was hardly a problem. We didn't live too far from a bar. However, if I craved a high really bad I would sometimes walk hours to purchase my drugs. I was taking everything at that time; Crack, Cocaine, Ecstasy, Alcohol. You name it and I probably tried it. I remember one instance when one of the guys from the local newspaper saw me passed out on side of the road. He called Brittany and together they got me home without drawing attention to myself. The next morning I checked all of the newspapers expecting to see the headline 'Star athlete found passed out on side of road' but it was not there. I guess he figured that as long as I was productive on the basketball court, nothing else mattered. We were in first place in our 5 team division."

He sipped some water from his water bottle that someone had given to him. Sometime during his speech, his voice had become dry. After moisturizing his mouth, he continued.

"By mid season my partying ways had started to take its toll on my body and ultimately, my game.

He cracked a small smile.

"As you sports fans know, Philadelphia has the most brutal fans in sports."

He paused and saw several of the people nod their heads in agreement.

" The fans had started to boo me at every home game. I was at the point where I'd much rather play on the road than at home in front of 6ers fans. We were no longer in first place in our division. We were second to last. My nerves were on edge a lot. I snapped at the local media and interviewers and soon was becoming, or might have in fact became, Philadelphia's most hated athlete. The local media stopped covering up for me and had picked up on my partying ways. I became the most talked about athlete on ESPN…not in a positive light. There was an outcry by parents calling for the NBA to suspend me because I was not a role model for their kids."

He sighed and took a deep breath.

"Word got out to the NBA Commissioner and in March of my rookie season, two days before my 20th birthday, and exactly one month before the end of the regular season, he kicked me out of the league. 'The NBA has a zero tolerance policy on drug abuse. The first time you violate the rule, you get an automatic 2 year (season) suspension. The second time, you get a five year (season) suspension. The third time you get a lifetime ban. I lost most of my endorsements and Philadelphia had released me. For the second straight year, the 76ers had finished dead last in their division. Not that it had mattered anymore, but I finished 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting.

Brittany and I were married in June of that same year. We honeymooned in Hawaii for two weeks. I'm telling you this because it is the only time I remember being sober for longer than a week."

He paused thoughtfully.

"Ever since I'd been a little kid, playing in the NBA had been my dream. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were my heroes. Their heated rivalry and passion for the game had instantly drawn me in. I knew I wanted to pass the ball like Magic and make three-pointers from the corner like Bird. So naturally, I knew I was going to give the NBA another go. Though I was still using, I sobered up 6 months into my 2nd year of banishment. I wanted my body to be in perfect shape for the upcoming season. I had got word from the NBA commissioner that I had been reinstated. I tried out with the Los Angeles Lakers and made the team. The first month was good. My wife's best friend, Sarah, was a Lakers cheerleader so she watched out for me sometimes.

The temptation of the Hollywood nightlife was too much for me though. I was quickly back to my old ways and before I could be kicked out again, I asked the Lakers coach to release me…and he did.

Once again, I was a crack-out loser. Brittany and I moved back South to live with my grandmother in the little house I bought her. My mother didn't want to have anything to do with me."

He took his glasses off and rubbed the spot between his eyes. Thinking about his mother and how she had turned her back on him had given him a headache. He wiped his glasses with his shirt and placed them on his face before proceeding with his story.

"Brittany had stayed by my side the entire time. I would on the couch most of the time because I was too ashamed to even look Brittany in the eyes.

Sometimes, when I was really high, I would not dream. I'd sleep a dreamless sleep of a stalled brain. When I stayed sober long enough, my dreams would return. Once, when I was sober, I had the most haunting dream of my life. I was fighting the devil. I'd hit him with a stick or something and he would just get right back up. Over and over I hit him until I was exhausted, and he was still standing. I woke up in a sweat. The terror that gripped me makes that dream feel real to this day."

He stopped speaking because his hands were shaking. Sweat poured down his forehead. He tightly closed his and tried to erase that memory and calm himself down. After a few minutes, he opened his eyes when he felt in control. And again, he spoke.

"I'm not embarrassed to admit that after I woke up that night, I walked down the hall to my grandmother's room and crawled under the covers with her...exactly as I had when I was a scared kid. I was about 22 or 23 years old at that time. I stayed sober for 4 months after that.

When I saw that the L.A. Lakers had made it to the Conference Finals, I got really depressed. I just sat on the couch all day, drinking beer and wasting away in my filth. Brittany was about 6 months pregnant then. One day after work, Brittany came in and clicked off the television. She finished college and got a B.A. in Education. She urged me to go back, but I had too much pride to even consider it. Anyway, after Brittany clicked off the television she stood right in front of me blocking my view. I didn't dare look up. I was afraid of what I might see on her face. I stared at her shirt for roughly 3 minutes before she decided to kneel down so that we were face-to-face. The look on her face scared me."

He paused for a dramatic effect. Members in the audience shifted anxiously in their seats. He continued.

"Instead of disappointment and hate on her face, she wore a look of love and compassion. 'I believe in you, Chris. There's a bigger plan for you. Don't worry, you'll be back in the NBA someday.' She said smiling. I couldn't even look at her. I remember saying something like, 'Whatever. Get out of my way so I can watch The Simpsons' and then clicking on the tv. I heard her chuckle softly before leaving the room. I hadn't picked up a basketball in 6 months at that point and I didn't even bother to stay in shape.

Brittany had our daughter Ashley, about a year and a half ago in March. I got sober because I truly decided I wanted a better life for my family. After failing rehab 5 or so times, I decided I was not going to fail again. Also, for 6 months, I practiced and tried getting in shape for the NBA season. One year ago, I tried out for several NBA teams and didn't make any. I was in a deep funk. I didn't drink or get high when I failed to make it in the NBA, I just got really depressed. I hid it from my wife and grandmother, though."

He sighed and took a deep breath. It was hard talking about that time in his life.

"On Christmas Eve last year, my life changed forever. My wife and grandmother had decided to go out with some friends. I was left alone with Ashley. I placed Ashley in her crib when she fell asleep and kissed her goodbye.

I went out on the balcony with my newly purchased Pistol and placed it to my temple."

A collective gasp went through the audience but he barely heard it. He was too busy thinking about his life's lowest point.

"I closed my eyes and with tears streaming down my face I prayed the Lord take me away from the nightmare that my life had become. Just as I was about to pull the trigger, I heard my baby scream. It was the loudest scream she's ever made. I can still hear it to this day and it gives me chills. I was so closed to death and ending it all.

I opened my eyes and removed the gun from my temple. I rushed into the house where I discarded the gun and ran to my baby's side. I will never forget the look on my daughter's face when I walked into the room. She was standing up in her crib and her eyes just lit up at the sight of me. She gave me the biggest smile ever to grace her face. I grabbed her and held her in my arms while I cried and thanked Jesus Christ for giving me another opportunity.

The Lord saved my life that day. He spoke to me through the wail of my daughter. I knew my time on earth wasn't meant to be over yet. Just as my wife had predicted, there was a bigger plan for me.

He paused before continuing.

I became a member of a great church and I was baptized 8 months ago. That night the devil returned to my dream. It was the same dream with an important difference. I would hit him and he would bounce back up. The devil seemed unbeatable; I couldn't knock him out. But just when I felt like giving up, I felt a presence by my side. I turned my head and saw Jesus battling alongside of me. We kept fighting and I was filled with strength. The devil didn't stand a chance. When I woke up, I felt at peace. I wasn't scared. To me, the lesson was obvious: Alone I couldn't win this battle. With Jesus, I couldn't lose.

Today, I'm a proud member of the NBA's Houston Rockets. I'm not anxious about my first game back tomorrow night because I know I have God on my side. Basketball is third in my life right now, behind my relationship with God and my family. If for some reason this whole basketball thing doesn't work out, I'm not going to worry about it. For now, the ball is in His Court."

A thunderous applause and a standing ovation followed his speech. He smiled and gave God all the glory.