SAB and SGA present ‘Speak Blue’ featuring Rex Chapman


Brady Saylor

Former NBA player and Kentucky basketball player Rex Chapman speaks during SpeakBlue with Rex Chapman on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, at the Singletary Center for the Arts in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Brady Saylor | Staff

Kristen Roberts, Reporter

UK’s Student Activities Board collaborated with the Student Government Association to present their annual ‘Speak Blue’ event, on March 29 which featured former UK and NBA basketball player Rex Chapman.

Chapman spoke to students about his struggles with opioid addiction and depression throughout his many years of basketball. 

Chapman, a Kentucky native, grew up in Owensboro and tried many different sports. He said one of his earliest recollections is of his parents putting him on the swim team at around six years old. 

It wasn’t until his freshman year of high school that he landed on basketball, where he quickly and unintentionally became one of the greatest players in the state. 

After high school, Chapman played at UK for two years before going to the NBA. While in the league, he played for the Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns.

Chapman said he was in his 12th and final season when he had an emergency appendectomy. His doctor gave him a prescription for oxycontin. 

“I took that, and in two days I knew I was in love, like best thing I’d ever had in my life,” Chapman said. 

He said he felt like the drug made him smarter, funnier and a better dad and husband. 

“For the next 14 years … from about 2001 — when I retired — to 2014, I spent in drug addiction with opioids,” Chapman said. 

His addiction started him on a dangerous path, leading to a shoplifting arrest, which is how he supported his drug and gambling habits.

Many of the habits he would struggle with throughout his life started at a very young age, he said. 

Chapman said he could probably read a race card before he could a newspaper. He talked about how his dad would take him to the tracks at five or six years old. His father would give him money, and then disappear for the rest of the day.

Chapman said he made bets with the guy he knew would take money from a kid. 

Chapman also talked about how he never drank, smoked or used any substances until the start of his addiction in 2001.

He said he probably wouldn’t be here otherwise and called this time in his life his “saving grace.”

“Taking drugs is fun at first, then it’s fun with problems, then it’s just problems,” Chapman said.

Chapman touched on how hard it is to find success at such a young age. He said basketball becomes many players’ whole identity, and not knowing what to do without it can lead to disaster. 

“I think for sure that’s what the deal was with me, and when I quit playing, the drugs I was taking, they were just substituting me going down and playing basketball, and I’d done that everyday of my life. I had no idea what to do,” Chapman said. 

After years of battling with addiction and three stays in rehab, Chapman finally made changes.

He recalled thinking he was going through withdrawal and described having a “pit in my stomach” feeling. He said eventually he had to leave rehab to go to a real hospital, where he found out he had ulcers from the opioids he had been taking. 

“I had ulcers from opioids, but the opioids also masked the pain of the ulcers,” Chapman said. “The second they gave me ulcer medication, I’ve not had another thing that I felt like, felt like withdrawal.”

Once the ulcers were gone, Chapman said he felt so reenergized. He thought he was gonna have to take the pills for the rest of his life.

Chapman said looking back he wishes someone would have just told him early on that life is hard. 

“I thought everything came pretty easy … I was just good at basketball,” Chapman said. 

Audience goers asked questions and applauded Chapman for his lecture. 

Potomac Rubbins, a UK senior majoring in broadcast journalism, said he bought his ticket over a week in advance and was looking forward to hearing Chapman talk. 

“I knew he had a super interesting life story, like getting addicted to drugs and stuff while he was in the league,” Rubbins said.

Rubbins said he is a huge basketball fan from the big sports city of Boston. One of his biggest takeaways from the speaker series was that addiction can happen to anyone. 

UK SAB president Allyson Carson is also a senior, majoring in marketing and management. She said Chapman was probably the best speaker the board has worked with. 

“I think students can take away his experience and learn from it, because he is very transparent about what that looks like, and he’s very honest about what life with addiction is like,” Carson said. “I think that students can listen to his story, and hopefully it will deter them from taking that path.”