By Matt Wickstrom, Smiley Pete
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Following a lengthy NBA career and subsequent fall from grace, former Kentucky basketball star (1986-’88) Rex Chapman is back to being “King Rex” again. Prior to holding a number of different front office positions in the league, Chapman suffered through an injury that plagued the final three years of his playing career. He underwent seven surgeries during the stretch that ultimately left him fighting a powerful painkiller addiction and spiraling as a result. In 2014, he found his life crashing down around him in an undeniable way when, while confined to living in his car for a few days, he was arrested for theft in Scottsdale, Arizona, a charge to which he ultimately plead guilty.
Now back living in Lexington, the native Kentuckian has undergone another transformation in recent years, following his opioid-rattled days — this time for the better. Following his arrest, Chapman entered into a rehab program, and has been clean from drugs for five years. He has returned to the world of basketball, where he now serves as an analyst for UK, as well as for NBA TV. And, in what was perhaps an unexpected career turn, he is also now the host of the Adult Swim show “Block or Charge,” a weekly mash-up of videos that sits at the crossroads of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Jackass.” Chapman hosts the show with fellow Lexingtonian David Helmers, who is one of the catalysts behind Lexington’s Railbird Festival and a lifelong friend of Chapman’s since his days growing up in Owensboro. Airing at 10 p.m. on Thursday nights, the show, which debuted in October 2019 and which its hosts have described as “the highest of the lowbrow,” brings basketball’s “block or charge” debate to everyday, real life blooper-type scenarios.
According to Chapman, the idea for the show first surfaced months earlier, after he encountered a random video clip on the internet last January.
“I saw a video of a paddle boarder who was in the surf,” Chapman explained. “A pod of dolphins was approaching and one leapt from the water and knocked him off his board. My immediate reaction was ‘That’s a charge!’ I posted the video with the question ‘Block or charge?!’ to Twitter, and it took off from there.”
The clip quickly became a viral sensation, swelling Chapman’s (@RexChapman) followers on the social media platform from 50,000 to over 700,000, while also helping him reconnect with old fans and make new ones — i.e., those too young to remember him from his days on the court.
“Young folks are sometimes surprised to learn that I had an NBA career,” said Chapman. “They think I’m just a random guy posting videos on Twitter.”
Since the onset of COVID-19, Chapman’s Twitter feed has transitioned even further in recent months, from focusing on almost exclusively cringeworthy content to including more heartwarming and wholesome entertainment. The shift has provided a much-needed distraction and helped unite his followers and others while they can’t physically be together. Whether it’s a baby gleefully making a homemade quarantine pizza (viewed 3 million times); actor and comedian Jack Black dancing shirtless in his backyard (viewed 7 million times); two dogs cuddling after one of them just got through surgery (viewed 6 million times); or a kid getting trampled by a dog during an Easter egg hunt (viewed 4.2 million times), this is the content that Chapman, and his followers, are here for.
“We’re all just doing the best we can under some strange and difficult circumstances,” said Chapman. “I see things that make me feel good and pass them on, in hopes that it makes other folks feel the same.
“I’m no different than anyone else trying to cope with social distancing and quarantines – I miss my routine and seeing my friends,” he added. “If a humorous video can bring a smile or a little laughter, then I’ve done my job.”
Observing a need to help those impacted by COVID-19, in recent months Chapman launched the Rex Chapman COVID-19 Relief Fund, a branch of the Rex Chapman Foundation. The fund, which has raised close to $200,000, has helped provide personal protective equipment for first responders, as well as food for people in need throughout Kentucky and in other areas impacted by the virus.
In late March, the foundation announced its first wave of Kentucky-focused grants to Harrison Memorial Hospital in Harrison County, where the state’s first reported case of COVID-19 occurred; it has also provided grants to the local nonprofit commercial kitchen FoodChain, to God’s Pantry Food Bank and to the community radio station Radio Lex. The foundation was able to provide a second wave of grants, totaling $50,000, to the greater New York City area, the epicenter of the virus’s outbreak in the United States.
Chapman is also pursuing other ways to help and to connect with fans and local businesses. Through “Block or Charge,” he has established a strong relationship with the Lexington-based clothing brand Kentucky for Kentucky, which has designed T-shirts for the TV show and internet phenomenon. In early April, the two partnered to donate 100 percent of profits generated from sales of the shirt to the Rex Chapman Foundation and COVID-19 Relief Fund, netting more than $27,000 in 10 days. Chapman said that a new shirt design, made specifically to benefit the foundation, is in the works, and will be released soon.
Chapman and the foundation have also partnered with Nicholasville-based CBD company Dwell CBD on a CBD sports cream (free of THC, the psychoactive ingredient found in some cannabis products), with a portion of early proceeds going to the COVID-19 Relief Fund.
After a life dealing with anxiety and depression, Chapman says that, like most everyone else, he is not immune to disruptions to his routine due to COVID-19.
“I’m a swimmer,” said Chapman. “My routine typically involves swimming 100 or more laps every day. It’s good exercise and it’s also good for me mentally and is a chance for me to reduce stress and anxiety and reset. Right now, with all the pools closed, I haven’t been able to swim so I’ve started walking every day instead, but it isn’t the same. I’m just needing to find other ways to cope just like everybody else. It’s a difficult time for everyone.”
This story was first published in the Chevy Chaser Magazine and SmileyPete.com. View the original story online here.