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Column: Former NBA player Rex Chapman rebounds to social media star after opioid battle

Rex Chapman
Rex Chapman waves to the crowd during a BIG3 game at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.
(Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

If you’re feeling down or just need a fun way to pass the time, log on to Twitter and type these words: That ain’t no dadgum cat. That’s a skunk.

There you will find video of four well-meaning gentlemen attempting to rescue an animal they believe is Penelope Pussycat only to discover it’s actually her nemesis, Pepe Le Pew. What happens next may be predictable but it is still hilarious.

Now chances are the clip you watch is courtesy of @RexChapman, the onetime Kentucky Wildcat and former NBA shooting star, and that’s a good thing. Over the course of a year, Chapman has turned his Twitter feed into a collage of beautiful moments and uncontrollable giggles, so if you like “That’s a skunk” check out his “Block or Charge” series or “Dogs, Bruh.” Clip by clip Chapman has slowly morphed himself from being a retired athlete to humanity’s humanity on social media, garnering the attention of nearly half a million followers, including Captain America and Luke Skywalker (Chris Evans and Mark Hamill, respectively, for the uninitiated). He said he was also shocked to see Ice-T and Chuck D appreciated his tweets as well.

“I saw a video one day of a school of dolphins and a guy on paddle board getting hit by one and said to myself, ‘That’s a ... charge’ and posted it,” he said. “Other people saw it and laughed and that’s kind of how this whole thing started.

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“I was getting so down on social media because of the political climate and everything on Twitter was so toxic that I wanted off of it. But the people who employ me wanted me to have a social media presence so this turned out to be a great compromise.”

Although there is no timetable for his return, Clippers forward Paul George participated in live drills as he recovers from shoulder surgeries.

It’s more than a compromise. It’s a budding phenomenon.

There’s a clip of a young person playing a video game who stops everything and breaks down in tears when presented with a puppy as a surprise gift that has nearly 12 million views. Another one has a dog pushing a wheelchair-using owner down the street. One of my favorites is the clip of one dog not leaving the side of his brother after surgery. That one is approaching 6 million views.

“There are a good dozen people on the internet that I’ve never met but we’ve developed friendships from the videos and they’ll send them to me,” he said.”It’s really easy at this point because people just send videos, anyone that I’m following will send me videos at this point.

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“So many of the young ballplayers, kids on last year’s Kentucky team or at the NBA combine approach me because of the videos. They don’t know me as a basketball player. They’ll just walk up to me and say, ‘Dogs, bruh’… it’s pretty cool.”

For NBA fans of a certain age, Chapman is no stranger. He was a standout at Kentucky and the first player ever signed by the Charlotte Hornets. As his hops disappeared, Chapman became known as a three-point shooter, spending the final four seasons of his career in Phoenix hitting 36% from downtown, which in the mid-90s was special. Unfortunately over the course of his 12-year career, he needed multiple surgeries, which opened the door to his opioid addiction.

Despite earning millions to play ball, he had begun stealing merchandise from an Apple Store in Scottsdale, Ariz., and selling the items to pawnshops, according to authorities. The bottom fell out in 2014 when he was arrested and charged with nine counts of retail theft and five counts of trafficking stolen property. He checked into rehab soon thereafter and said he’s been clean ever since.

“I swim to stay healthy and try to stay as busy as I can,” he said. “I can fake my way into a bad mood like nobody’s business but I’ve been seeing a therapist and I feel great… way better than I’ve ever felt.

Phoenix Suns guard Rex Chapman, left, controls the ball in front of Seattle SuperSonics guard Gary Payton.
Phoenix Suns guard Rex Chapman, left, controls the ball in front of Seattle SuperSonics guard Gary Payton during a game in the 1990s.
(AFP via Getty Images)

“Life’s weird… life’s hard. It seemed like I had this charmed ... life and I felt like I didn’t deserve it and I did enough to make sure it didn’t last forever. I’ve been recognized for much of my life but I learned that when I was fatter I am less recognizable so I got fat but then it almost killed me. So now I swim five to six times a week, lost weight and just learned to deal with life better. I’m in a good place and am happy to know the videos are helping other people make it each day.”

Chapman said as much as he’s on Twitter nowadays, he doesn’t think he could have juggled his playing career with social media the way NBA players do today.

“I was working with the Suns and remember when Stevie Nash had to tape some stuff for social media on game day. I was like, ‘Twitter? What are you talking about? It was everything I could do to go from shootaround to the game without getting hurt. I could not have handled it and don’t know how these guys do it today. It’s amazing.

“When I was playing basketball, players weren’t thinking about themselves as being a brand. Maybe Michael [Jordan] but that was it. There wasn’t any social media. No one thought about any of this stuff. I’m amazed these guys are able to manage so much stuff.”

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Post-career, Chapman is now spinning his own plates. In addition to covering Kentucky basketball games on radio and TV, his “Block or Charge” meme has led to a 30-minute blooper show of the same name on Adult Swim. He co-hosts the program with his buddy David Helmers out of Helmer’s garage. He also does public speaking about the dangers of opioids and volunteers, recently delivering winter coats to students at Booker T. Washington Elementary in Lexington, Ky.

“There were times when I thought I would be way happier and healthier if I just stayed off of social media,” he said. “Now I see it’s really what you make it. You can focus on the negative and get yourself down or you can focus on the stuff that makes me and others feel good. I’ve had enough negative stuff… I’m happy I get a chance to be a small part of the good.”


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