The NCAA Tournament loves a story of redemption, and it has the makings of one this year with former Kentucky basketball icon Rex Chapman.
Chapman, who will work Turner Sports' local telecast of the Kentucky-Wisconsin Final Four game, is coming off a third stay in rehab in his attempt to beat drug addiction.
"I've battled prescription pain pill addiction for 17 years," he said during a telephone conversation Wednesday. "When I say battled, I mean battled opiates and painkillers much like Marvis Frazier and Michael Spinks battled Mike Tyson."
During his reign as heavyweight boxing champion in the 1980s, Tyson knocked out Frazier and Spinks in the first round.
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"It had its way with me far more than I had my way with it," Chapman said of his addiction to vicodin and oxycontin. "I came by it pretty honestly."
Chapman, UK's leading scorer in 1986-87 and 1987-88, when he was known as "King Rex," said he had 10 surgeries during his 14-year NBA career. His injuries included broken bones (tibia, fibula, index finger, wrist and thumb) and a dislocated ankle. He needed surgery to repair an Achilles' tendon and to clean out scar tissue in the ankle; he also had an emergency appendectomy.
Chapman, 47, said he has spent time in John Lucas' Houston-based treatment program for addiction and most recently at The Brook hospital in the Louisville area.
"I feel pretty good," he said. "I've lost 40 pounds. I'm clear-minded for the first time in quite a while. ... I've been through the process before. But never for this long. I feel great. I'm just happy as I can be when I wake up each morning and not be a slave to the medicine."
Chapman said drug addiction had something to do with his arrest in September on suspicion of shoplifting from an Apple store in Arizona. He was arrested on suspicion of nine counts of organized retail theft and five counts of trafficking in stolen property totaling $14,000. All are felonies.
"I'd love to tell you I remember much of it," Chapman said of the arrest. "I don't really. It's very fuzzy. I'll tell you this: I'm not looking to duck anything. Something had to happen for me to get off that medication."
Jerry Cobb, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in Scottsdale, Ariz., said no decision had been made on filing formal charges against Chapman. The prosecutor's office is reviewing additional information it requested from Scottsdale police, he said.
Such a request for additional information was not unusual, Cobb said.
The statute of limitations for filing charges against Chapman is seven years, but Cobb said prosecutors should decide "relatively soon" whether to press charges.
Cobb made it sound unlikely that, if convicted, Chapman would serve time in prison.
"In Arizona, nearly all defendants that are convicted of a nonviolent first-time felony are sentenced to a term of probation," he said.
After the arrest, Chapman entered The Brook hospital. A "humbling experience" is what he called the arrest and third attempt at rehabilitation.
"I've been in the public eye since 14 or 15," he said. "I really don't know any other way at this point.
"If I was a Thoroughbred, I played out in front for a long time. I guess you can't always play out in front all the time."
Chapman expressed gratitude for those who supported his efforts at rehabilitation.
"I never really realized that I had so many friends who loved and cared about me, outside of basketball," he wrote in a followup text message. "My kids, friends and family have been unwavering in their support and with their unconditional love."
UK Associate Coach Kenny Payne, a contemporary of Chapman as a player, called weekly. Coach John Calipari joined Payne in speaking with Chapman after the treatment at The Brook.
When Calipari visited, Chapman said he apologized for "the tweet thing."
Hours before Kentucky played Connecticut in the 2014 national championship game, Chapman tweeted it was a "done deal" that Calipari would leave UK to coach the Los Angeles Lakers.
"He's been great to me," Chapman said of Calipari.
Chapman also said that Louisville Coach Rick Pitino made a visit, and the two chatted for several hours.
"And," Chapman added, "honestly, the fans have been terrific."
According to a posting by Louisville-based WAVE News, not all fans welcomed Chapman as an analyst for the Kentucky-Wisconsin game.
"I wouldn't spit on Rex Chapman if he was on fire," a female caller said on a radio call-in show, the WAVE News site reported. Fill-in radio host Gary Gupton suggested Chapman working the game was an April Fool's joke.
"People absolutely have the right to feel however they feel about stuff," Chapman said. "All I can say is, I'm trying to do the next right thing."