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KS(book)Report: It's Hard for Me to Live with Me | by Rex Chapman

On3 imageby:Adam Stratton05/19/24

AdamStrattonKSR

Summer is here, Big Blue Nation, so it is time to head to the pool, beach, lake, or whatever your preferred body of water might be and bust out a good book. The thing is, if you’re anything like me, the book I tote around ends up being more of a prop than anything else. It felt like a good idea when I bought it off Amazon, but now it’s just something else to lug around while I listen to a podcast on my phone.

This summer is different, though. With KSR weekend content to create and a curious mind about the books I’ve thought about maybe reading one day, I’m starting a KS(book)Report series. Maybe they’ll come every week. Maybe every other week. And perhaps this will be the only one. This is KSR, who knows?

Whenever they do come, KS(book)Reports posts will focus on works written about and around the subject of Kentucky sports. I’ll do the big reading so you don’t have to. Or maybe it’ll make you want to read it. Either way, it’ll be here.

First up on the docket is Rex Chapman’s New York Times best-selling memoir, It’s Hard for Me to Live with Me.

Initial Disclaimer

Heads up, pearl clutchers. It’s Hard for Me to Live with Me is not a book I suggest you download the audio version of and listen to around your kids. Your easily offended aunt may want to steer away from this one as well. Gratuitous F-bombs flood nearly every page from cover to cover. In fact, the entire manuscript reads like a conversation in the back booth of a dive bar after midnight between two bros who haven’t seen each other in a while. Knowing that Chapman wrote the book alongside Seth Davis, there’s a good chance this hypothesized creation account is not too far from the truth.

Regardless, what some folks might view as unnecessary vulgarity is meant to, and often beautifully does, convey a type of raw authenticity you don’t often see in memoirs. Rex invites the reader through every era of his life as a Ghost of Christmas Past type figure, sitting on his shoulder with a direct line to his thoughts.

Profanity. Drug use. Abortion. Gambling. Agnosticism. Extortion. Adultery. Theft. Racism. Name something that your preacher on Sunday would shun and it’s in this book, not to mention NCAA violations galore. If you’d rather keep your impression of Rex Chapman as the polished King Rex icon of the past, I suggest you keep his book closed. But if you’re open to the unfiltered truth of a Kentucky legend, open the pages and dive in.

The University of Kentucky was Chapman’s first addiction

Much like most of the relationships Chapman describes in his life, the one he has with the University of Kentucky, and the state at large, is tricky.

Through various interviews over the years, I knew Rex strongly considered going to Louisville instead of Kentucky out of high school, but his memoir confessed how much he loathed the Wildcats growing up. Unlike other in-state stars who dreamed of wearing blue and white, Chapman took a courtesy visit only after Joe B. Hall retired and, as he is prone to do throughout the book, became quickly addicted to the shiny things Kentucky had to offer that made him feel good.

This is my analogy, not his, but I got the sense walking onto Kentucky’s campus, complete with all the luxuries of Wildcat Lodge including an on-site chef, was like his first taste of Oxycontin later in life. It gave him a high for which he quickly became unwilling to put down.

Much like his loved ones would later attempt to steer him away from his harmful vices, all his friends gave him hell for choosing Kentucky after he talked so much trash about them his whole youth. He picked Kentucky, who just hired a coach who never recruited him in Eddie Sutton, over Louisville and his tremendous relationship with Denny Crum. Simply put, he chose the path of the thrill over his real-life relationships.

Of course, the average Kentucky had no idea this was the case. They loved him for his ability to shoot and dunk on the basketball court, but Rex was also acutely aware the color of his skin also played a big part in that universal admiration, a fact to which he would develop a lifelong grudge.

Chapman’s Awkward Relationship with Kentucky

Chapman oscillates between lapping up the celebrity lifestyle at Kentucky and resenting it. One of the lowkey aspects I enjoyed about the book was its peek into the pre-Internet era of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Forget social media, the only way for fans to know players off the court was through the rumor mill. And the rumor going around at the time was that Rex was dating a black girl.

And he was. Sort of. In private, anyway.

Chapman reflects on many conversations he had with mentors, boosters, and coaches who gave him the whole, “We don’t have a problem with you dating a black girl, but other people might. So be careful,” speech several times. He even got similar “advice” from NBA executives in Charlotte and the way he describes it, being told who he couldn’t date because of race tore at his soul.

The frustration toward the situation, in part, made him less inclined to stick around in school for his junior season. Having a drunk for a coach, one who he found passed out in the hallway more than once, didn’t help either.

Despite not wanting to come to Kentucky and having constant resentment toward the folks around the university for interfering in his dating life, every NBA offseason he would find himself back in Lexington. Even after his arrest, he spent a good chunk of his recovery time back in the Bluegrass. This also happened to be around the time Donald Trump became President, which presented another complication in his relationship with his home state. And just like perceived bigotry led him away from Kentucky in 1988, it did so again 30 years later.

Addiction

The book kicks the reader in the teeth right away with the story of Chapman’s arrest. While the visual of him faceplanted into the side of a squad car is the obvious standout scene, what jolted me was what went through his head at the time. His addict brain didn’t even think it was about the Apple Store he robbed on numerous occasions, he assumed the police were nabbing him for driving a suspended license…again.

Blame the pills or simply the arrogance of a man who used to walk on water in the minds of thousands, but Chapman had an expired or suspended license for the better part of a decade. He’d get pulled over for it and still just not bother renewing it.

He even admits how easy of a thing it would have been to fix, but he just never took the time to do it. This type of lazy arrogance also led him to return to the same Apple Store every time he needed to steal goods. “No one is ever going to nab me for this.”

Before there were the pills, there was gambling. Rex goes into detail about the wads of cash he would drop at Off Track Betting locations while playing in the NBA. Blackjack got him too.

Most interesting, though, at times he is very self-aware that he is prone to addiction. That is partly why he was never a big drinker and never smoked pot in his playing days, though he finds medical marijuana to be extremely helpful to his mental state nowadays. And yet, he succumbed to addiction on multiple fronts anyway.

Other Fun Anecdotes

The theme of Chapman’s book is his inner struggle dealing with his over-the-top, often self-destructive self, but that doesn’t mean it also isn’t full of fun anecdotes. From having firecracker wars with Reggie Hansen to NBA parties with a naked Gheorghe Mureșan to babysitting toddler Stephen Curry, Rex has lived a wild life.

Some good Kentucky basketball stories are in there too. He talks about how Eddie Sutton was so wasted at a dinner, he ranted for two hours with him over crazy stuff like the importance of applying A-1 sauce to baked potatoes.

On a different occasion, Sutton got so mad at a player for mentioning he was hungry during a punishment practice that Sutton dumped an entire bag of dog food on the ground and said, “If you play like dogs, you eat like dogs!”

The right people could have a really good Eddie Sutton/Billie Gillespie story battle.

He also talks about the inner workings of NBA contract negotiations, chumming it up with Michael Jordan at a bowling alley, and how signing with the upstart and poor-quality And-1 shoe company was a huge mistake. If you’re only picking this book up for behind-the-scene stories, you won’t be disappointed.

Overall Impression and Rating

Not to get overly meta, but this book is almost a reflection of Rex himself. It’s edgy and heartfelt while occasionally going just a bit too far. In one passage he will discuss battling the tremendous pressure as a basketball star in Kentucky and then tangent into an unnecessary aside about the details of how he lost his virginity.

As the reader on this journey, your feelings about Rex toggle between admiration, empathy, and distaste as he paints himself as a hero, a victim, and a bit of an arrogant prick on multiple occasions.

One minute, Chapman boasts about beating up a bully in high school who was picking on a weaker kid, but before you know it, he’s musing, albeit regretfully, about intentionally elbowing an opposing player in the face during a game.

In another instant, he vents about being forced to hide his relationship with a Black girl in college, but next, you are reading about his relentless sexual escapades while dating this girl, “Having sex every day, sometimes twice,” while at Kentucky.

Ultimately, it makes sense. It is easy to view sports stars, especially ones in the pre-Internet era, as one-dimensional. After all, watching them play is the only real vantage point in to their life. However, humans are not just a singular adjective, and Rex Chapman is one of the more complex figures Big Blue Nation ever hung on their wall in poster form.

Altogether, Chapman lays all of his warts out for the world to see in his debut memoir and it creates a captivating hike through a life full of prestige, self-inflicted tragedy, bootstrap-tugging redemption, and ongoing battles.

On a scale of zero to eight banners, I give It’s Hard for Me to Live with Me a solid seven.

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2024-06-13