By Brian Taylor
When Larry Bird came into the league in the early 80’s, he was coming into an NBA that had been dominated mostly by African-American players. Sure, you had your Jeff Rulands, and your Bobby Jones’, but Larry would take control, and it was inevitable. When the 80’s were ushered out and the 90’s arrived, you saw guys get more creative on the court. Michael Jordan not only crushed his opponents, but he did it with a little style, a little flair, from the tongue wagging to the baggy shorts. In this decade you still had your good white players, but they were usually more fundamental (i.e. Mark Price) and got the job done without a lot of fanfare. All that ended when Kentucky’s Rex “Boy Wonder” Chapman entered the scene in 1988.
When expansion clubs start building their teams, they sometimes go for players that have more drawing power than skill (Hornets drafting J.R. Reid, Bobcats getting UNC Alumns Ray Felton and Sean May) to try and get people in the seats. Rex was picked 8th overall in the 1988 draft and contributed immediately, with 17 ppg.
What people knew about Rex was that the guy could flat out jump out the gym. “White Men Can’t Jump” most definitely didn’t apply to Rex, as he regularly posterized guys night in and night out. He was the typical brash rookie who had something to prove, but there was no doubt he had hops. At the 1989 All-Star Slam Dunk contest, he pulled off a ridiculous two-handed, two ball slam before bowing out to Slam Dunk stalwart Dominique Wilkins.
His reckless style was what made fans remember him, along with his 40 inch vertical. When he added a wet jumper to his arsenal, he got even more dangerous. Even in the Midwest Division (Remember when they put the Hornets there? What was THAT about? Someone get at me on that.) Rex did damage, but the Hornets were still cellar dwellers. If you really want to check him doing his thing, check him out from his Bullets/Heat/Suns days. As a matter of fact, his most famous shot was the one he took when he was playing with the Suns in the 1997 Playoffs. With about 3 seconds left in the game, Phoenix fumbles the ball and it looks like its going out of bounds. Chapman had the court awareness to fling up a prayer while falling out of bounds, swishing a three-pointer to send the game to O.T. Even though Phoenix would lose the game (and the series), people remember that shot the most in those playoffs. You could call him a shorter version of Brent Barry, with Jason Williams’ hood mentality.
Why You May Have Forgotten Him:
Remember how when Allen Iverson, Steve Francis and Baron Davis first came into the league, they were catching oops and cramming on anyone and everyone at any given moment? There’s a reason they don’t do that now, and it’s because even though it looks cool on YouTube years later, it tears up your knees and your back. Rex, being the flashy guy, paid the price later in his career, as he was always injured, always missing games. He was also kind of maddening: if he was having a bad shooting night, he’d usually try to clank through it, much to his coaches’ chagrin. I remember him in Miami and even with the Bullets, crumpled up and being carried off the court. Pretty soon, he got that stigma of “injury-prone”, and eventually retired in 2000.
These days, Rex owns a restaurant (3’s Sports Bar and Grill) with his wife in Lexington. He’s also a part-time player scout for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and during TNT’s playoff coverage, you can check him out.