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Kentucky Basketball: Another Toppled God

Former UK great Rex Chapman was arrested for shoplifting in Arizona on Friday. Another Big Blue legend falls from grace.

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Maricopa County Sherriff's Dept.

When news like the recent arrest of Rex Chapman for shoplifiting in an Apple store in Arizona breaks, it always seems to break when I am on the road or otherwise unavailable for some reason. I chalk that up to the innate perversity of life — in other words, stuff happens.

The details of this story are remarkably typical of something you would see of a 25-year old in a tough neighborhood rather than a 47-year old ex-NBA star who at some point in his life has earned tens of millions of dollars at least. That’s what makes this so jarring to the psyche — we’d be less surprised, perhaps, if Chapman were arrested for some kind of white-collar scheme involving some sporting scam or other. To see him arrested for a simple shoplifting-and-pawning scheme is bizarre on so many levels, it beggars belief.

At this point, I want to stop and point out, as we must in every one of these situations, that Chapman is only accused of these crimes at this point. The police will have to prove that he did this, or convince Chapman to take a plea. Until then, in the eyes of the law, he is innocent until proven guilty, and we should always keep that in mind when we discuss his plight.

Having said that, the eyes of the law are not likely to be the eyes of those who both love and respect him, both for who he is as a person and who he is on the court. Unfortunately, judgments are likely to come much earlier and much more harshly than the slow-griding wheels of justice. That is just the sad reality of trial by media, which every public figure must endure. If he winds up being exonerated (rather unlikely in my view based on what we know right now), we’ll all just have to deal with the consequences.

The facts, as of this morning, appear to be thus according to the Arizona Republic:

Rex Chapman, a former a guard for the Suns, was arrested Friday on accusations he shoplifted more than $14,000 of goods.

Scottsdale police say Chapman stole the items from the Apple Store at the Scottsdale Quarter on seven separate occasions over the span of several weeks. According to public records, Chapman owns or rents a residence in the neighboring development of Kierland Commons.

It’s perhaps the painful, straightforward simplicity of the facts that make this particular drama hard to jump on the "wait and see" express. Speaking only for myself, I have always admired Rex Chapman as a player, and mostly as a person. His famous foray into sports prognostication last year notwithstanding, he’s alwasy seemed to be a bit quirky but nonetheless lovable for that idiosynracy. His exploits on the basketball court are, of course, Kentucky legend, and nothing saddens and sobers the Big Blue Nation more than the fall of one of their on-court greats.

As with the recent Richie Farmer debacle, this particular allegation is cringe-inducing and even maddening. The inevitable "Why?" will be asked over and over, likely with unsatisfying answers. I am reminded of the role of myself and other fans in this whole matter with a passage from H.G. Wells A Short History of the World, also found in Frank Herbert’s Dune trilogy attributed to a Tleilaxu epigram:

Here lies a toppled god.
His fall was not a small one.
We did but build his pedestal,
A narrow and a tall one.

We did but build Rex’s pedestal. His fall will not be a small one.