It’s Hard for Me to Live with Me: A Memoir

  • By Rex Chapman with Seth Davis
  • Simon & Schuster
  • 272 pp.

A frank, razor-sharp reflection on fame and a spectacular fall.

It’s Hard for Me to Live with Me: A Memoir

Basketball legend Rex Chapman was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a University of Kentucky freshman and played in the NBA against Michael Jordan. Now, with his career on the court 20 years behind him, he’s a podcaster and a significant voice in the sports world. He’s also the author of a new memoir, It’s Hard for Me to Live with Me.

Despite being an avid reader of memoirs, I’m not exactly Chapman’s target audience. I have never watched an entire basketball game, and I’m leery of celebrity memoirs in general, as they often read like glossy, Oscar-worthy speeches and either avoid or ignore the blemishes and human flaws that make the genre worth reading. Yet there’s just one word to describe Chapman’s effort: Riveting.

The book is a hard-hitting examination of what can happen when you give an anxious 18-year-old more money and influence than most people will ever see. We watch him rocket to fame and then slam back down to earth with G-force-like consequences. Much of the narrative ticks like a bomb — permanently altering how readers view elite athletes — but it will make you fall in love with Chapman’s charming self-awareness.

A famous photo of Chapman leaping, ball in hand, at the 1990 Gatorade Slam Dunk Contest graces the cover of It’s Hard for Me to Live with Me, but for many years, the first picture to pop up after a “Rex Chapman” Google search was his mugshot. In 2014, he was arrested for shoplifting at an Apple store in Arizona; he pleaded guilty and went directly to rehab for drug addiction. The media blitz around the case was brutal, but his life prior to the fateful episode had also been challenging.

While still in college, young Chapman fell for the quick and expensive highs of gambling and drugs. King Rex, as the basketball world called him, chased a lot of tail in girls’ dorm rooms and, later, in hotel rooms (leaving his longtime girlfriend none the wiser for years). He’d made $40 million during his tenure in the NBA. By the time of his arrest, it was all gone, and he was sleeping in his car.

Chapman was first given strong painkillers for injuries he sustained as a player. While it can be argued that there were many instances where he was preyed upon or steered wrong by people in authority, you won’t find an ounce of self-pity here. Instead, he and his co-author, Seth Davis, carefully zoom out to explore the larger context of the issues addressed in the book. In a section where Chapman returns to Lexington, the Kentucky Wildcats’ home city, after being arrested, he reflects:

“To my surprise, there is not a single moment where I feel judged. If anything, people are sympathetic. Kentucky is ground zero for the opioid crisis in America, along with Ohio and West Virginia. These are states with lots of manual laborers, especially coal miners, and the vultures at the pharmaceutical companies recognized them as easy marks. People in those states are hurting all the time, how about taking this little pill and making the pain go away?”

Chapman isn’t just incisive when it comes to the issue of drug abuse, however. He’s equally honest and thoughtful when exploring matters of race, money, fatherhood, family, and mental health. In many ways, his story and his reflections on it serve as a primer for a new form of masculinity: multifaceted, vulnerable, and still tough as nails.

Finally, the book serves as an elegy for Twitter. Chapman joined the platform — now called X — early on; by 2020, his humor, candor, and basketball commentary had gained him a million-plus followers. While he acknowledges it isn’t the healthiest habit, Chapman believes tweeting is better than blowing thousands at the racetrack. He notes the increasing toxicity on the site, yet his posting of silly videos and sports chatter reminds us of what Twitter once was. Yes, it always had problems, but it used to give us access to our heroes at the press of an “@” button. Now, it’s largely a place of hatred and cruelty.

Chapman, though, ever the happy warrior, remains active on it, even if many of his tweets are understandably angry. His rage at the complicity of Kentucky’s senior senator, Mitch McConnell, in the opioid epidemic crackles online and in these pages. When Chapman is invited to speak at the White House by President Donald Trump, he flat-out refuses. Admittedly, his progressive ideals and willingness to call out racial injustice will rankle many in his home state and elsewhere. But his earnestness in addressing polarizing topics is refreshing.

And so is this book. While I may never be the biggest fan of sports memoirs, Rex Chapman has made me second-guess my prejudice. As we enter yet another grimace-worthy election cycle, It’s Hard for Me to Live with Me might be just the story to get us through.

Gretchen Lida is an essayist and an equestrian. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Rumpus, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and many other publications. She is a contributing writer at Horse Network and the Independent, and host of “HN Reads,” a podcast about horse books. She lives in Chicago.

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