Rex Chapman Talks NCAA Tournament Experiences, CNN+ Show, More in B/R Exclusive

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVMarch 14, 2022

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 12: Rex Chapman speaks onstage at "The Bold Jump To Streaming News" during the 2022 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Austin Convention Center on March 12, 2022 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)
Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW

Rex Chapman was an All-SEC performer at Kentucky and a 12-year NBA veteran, and now he will host a new CNN+ show when the streaming service launches after March 29.

And what was it that helped him go from basketball star to notable media personality? 

A group of dolphins, of course.

"Several years ago I was just sitting there watching a video on my phone of a school of dolphins that had come in close to the shore," he told Bleacher Report during an exclusive interview. "They were swimming out to sea past a guy on his paddleboard. One of the dolphins jumped up and hit him square in the chest, and I said to myself aloud, 'that's a f--king charge.' So it was kind of amusing to me and I put that out. And, of course, when you put something like that out on social media, you're only targeting basketball people and anybody who might know something about sports. I guess some people thought it was funny and I just kind of ran with it."

Ran with it he did, and his Twitter account grew as a home for amusing blooper videos with "block or charge" as his caption. Chapman also used his growing social media presence to focus more on positivity than some of the "toxic" elements that can sometimes pollute the platforms, and he even hosted a show titled Block or Charge for Adult Swim.

He comes to CNN+ from Adult Swim and will host a weekly show as part of the streaming service's collection of original programming.

Chapman said viewers can expect "conversations with everyone from celebrities to athletes to everyday heroes. Just sitting down and putting them in comfortable positions to tell their story."

There are already a number of headlining names lined up for interviews, including Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love, actor Ben Stiller and Ted Lasso himself, Jason Sudeikis.

"We had a great conversation, I flew over to London," Chapman said of his interview with Sudeikis. "It was awesome, it really was. I'm relatively new to interviewing, and there's a certain amount of nerves and learning curves that go into all of it but it's been fun so far."

He said he would love to interview former President Barack Obama or chef Jose Andres, who has been recognized for his humanitarian work as well as his cooking. However, Chapman's biggest focus is on getting to know individuals on a deeper level.

"I want to have fascinating people who have done incredible things whether we know about them or not," he said. "That's the one thing that over my lifetime has been crystalized. A lot of us as human beings, I do myself certainly, tend to generalize a lot. People as individuals are incredibly complicated and fascinating. Until you sit down with every individual, you never really know what makes them tick and how they got where they are as a person. I'm finding it awfully fun to delve into those talks."

The fun won't stop there for Chapman.

He will be part of Turner's coverage of the 2022 NCAA men's basketball tournament and will look to lend some of the expertise he gathered when he played for Kentucky during the 1986-87 and 1987-88 seasons.

That second year saw him average 19.0 points, 3.7 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game while shooting 50.1 percent from the field as an All-SEC First Team selection who led the Wildcats to a regular-season and conference tournament crown.

They lost to Villanova in the Sweet 16 in a game he still remembers for positive and negative reasons.

"It still hurts," Chapman said. "It was fun winning in the tournament, but at Kentucky, there's winning and misery. It was a heartbreaking loss. But growing up and filling out brackets as a kid, it's the best time of year. And getting to play in that tournament that you've filled out brackets for for years and years. Growing up and getting to play on that big stage and hearing your name called by Bill Raftery or Clark Kellogg or now Grant Hill. I think there was maybe a time that I took those things for granted, but I sure don't for these young men and women who are going to play in this tournament. They're going to have a lot of fun."

Fortunately for Kentucky fans, he believes this season's group won't have to experience that same pain of losing.

"I'm feeling great about them," Chapman said. "I love the draw. They didn't play particularly well against Tennessee, but it's been fun for me this year and I know it's been fun for Kentucky fans to watch an older Kentucky basketball team. …. Having veterans out there gives a whole new look for Kentucky and Kentucky fans out there."

Veterans such as junior Oscar Tshiebwe and senior Kellan Grady will have to navigate an East Region that also includes Baylor, Purdue, UCLA and North Carolina, among others. 

Chapman believes that won't be a problem, but Kentucky isn't the only team he expects to make some noise. He also sees Gonzaga, Arizona and Iowa making the Final Four and can't wait to watch the Wildcats' Bennedict Mathurin and the Hawkeyes' Keegan Murray, who "can just flat put it in the basket."

"The most fascinating player in the whole tournament to me is Bennedict Mathurin from Arizona," Chapman said. "He's incredibly good. They're already good even if he's just sort of an average wing player, but he's elite with his ability to pass and shoot. Plus he's a crazy athlete."

He will have a front-row seat to watch Mathurin, Murray and more as part of Turner's coverage.

"I'm really excited that they want me to do it," Chapman said. "Seth Davis is a long-time friend and I've known Candace Parker forever. We're both SEC people and we both wore the best number ever, three. I'm just really excited, and we get to do it with Ernie [Johnson] the second weekend, and he's just the best. So I'm fired up. And my Wildcats might win it all, so that's a plus, and everybody has to get over me being a Kentucky homer. Because that's what I am."

Chapman's homer-ism doesn't stop at the collegiate level.

"The Phoenix Suns winning the title," he said when asked what he is most looking forward to with the NBA playoffs approaching after March Madness. "I'm a homer Suns guy."

The love for his former team comes as no surprise after he played 12 seasons in the NBA for the Charlotte Hornets, Washington Bullets, Miami Heat and Suns. While he dealt with a number of injuries throughout his career, the No. 8 overall pick of the 1988 NBA draft still averaged 14.6 points and hit 35.0 percent of his three-pointers as a productive secondary scorer.

The host of NBA podcasts Charges with Rex Chapman and The Rex Chapman Show envisions an NBA Finals matchup between two of his former teams in the Suns and Heat, although the struggling Los Angeles Lakers have also caught his eye.

"I'm looking forward to seeing if the Lakers can get anything going here during the last part of the season," he said. "It's been really weird and tough to watch as a fan of not only LeBron but AD and Malik Monk, Kentucky guys, on his team. So I always root for those guys as well."

Yet it is the Suns and not the struggling Lakers who sit atop the Western Conference standings and appear primed to make a championship run.

If they do win the title, perhaps an interview on Chapman's new CNN+ show will be waiting for Chris Paul or Devin Booker.