'Just kept getting worse': How NBA cult hero blew $50 million

·Sports Reporter
·4-min read
Rex Chapman's descent from NBA star to his arrest on shoplifting charges in 2014 was driven by his years long addiction to prescription painkillers. Pictures: Twitter/Getty Images
Rex Chapman's descent from NBA star to his arrest on shoplifting charges in 2014 was driven by his years long addiction to prescription painkillers. Pictures: Twitter/Getty Images

Former NBA player turned social media star Rex Chapman has opened up about how the end of his professional career led to his addiction to prescription painkillers.

Chapman, now 53, was selected with the eighth pick in the 1988 NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets and played for 12 years, with stints for Washington, Miami and Phoenix before his eventual retirement in 2000.

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Averaging 14.6 points for his career, which was marred by injuries despite showing significant promise, Chapman found it difficult to adjust to life outside the league.

Over his final three seasons in the NBA, Chapman was forced to undergo no less than seven orthopaedic surgeries in his final three years in the league.

Emergency surgery to remove his appendix led to him developing an addiction to OxyContin, a highly potent painkiller Chapman described as 'synthetic heroin'.

Pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, which developed the drug, pleaded guilty to three charges relating to their efforts to block government attempts to combat the opioid crisis in the United States, as well as incentivising doctors to prescribe the highly addictive painkillers.

Purdue was also found not to have made proper efforts to prevent their drugs from hitting the black market, despite claiming to have done so.

Speaking on his new podcast, Charges with Rex Chapman, the now 53-year-old said using the drug had led to a swift descent into addiction.

“I felt smarter, funnier and felt like I was walking about an inch-and-a-half off the ground,” he said.

“I would just chew them up to get them into my system earlier. I was perfectly messed up all the time.

“My life just kept getting worse and worse. My decisions kept getting worse and worse, until I’m gambling everyday, I’ve gotta have my medicine everyday."

Despite making more than $50 million (AUD) in career earnings from NBA contracts alone throughout his 12-year career, by 2014 that wealth was all but gone.

With his addiction spiralling out of control in the years after his NBA retirement, Chapman's lowest point finally came in 2014, when he was caught stealing more than $18,000 worth of products from an Apple store, with plans to pawn the goods to pay various debts.

Arrest the low point for former NBA cult hero

Chapman was arrested over his ill-conceived shoplifting plan, which prompted his third attempt at rehab at a facility in Kentucky.

By this point Chapman weighed more than 120 kilograms and his marriage had broken down.

A move to Los Angeles, where he spent several months couch-surfing, he was lured back to his home state of Kentucky with an entry-level media job - one which he seized with both hands and led to his rebirth as a social media doyen.

“I always felt like a little bit of a fraud, just from a young age,” Chapman said. 

“People, they had a view of me or I thought they had a view of me as this All-American white kid and I had apparently sold out my whole f***ing life to that ideal, knowing that’s not who I was inside.

Former NBA player Rex Chapman has opened up about his battle with opioid addiction. (Photo by  Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Former NBA player Rex Chapman has opened up about his battle with opioid addiction. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

“I’m a flawed dude, I’ve got no patience, I have all kinds of warts, I’m depressed — but it was the first time in my life I thought, ‘Alright, now the facade is gone, now I can just be me, but I gotta get better’.”

Now boasting more than 1.1 million followers on Twitter, Chapman insists he isn't pursuing an influencer lifestyle - simply preferring to make people smile one funny video at a time.

His new podcast will feature interviews with other athletes and high-profile celebrities who have endured their own struggles and low points.

An upcoming episode will feature him speaking with Metta Sandiford-Artest, formerly known as Metta World Peace - an NBA wild child in the late 90s and 2000s and one of the central figures in the damaging 2004 'Malice in the Palace' fight.

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