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Chapman: 'Most preferred that I keep it confidential'

5/18/2005 - Kentucky Wildcats

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Former Kentucky star Rex Chapman told a newspaper that school officials tried to stop him from dating black women or at least "hide it" rather than inflame fans.

"There were certain aspects of my time there that were really ugly," Chapman, who is white, said in a story published by The Courier-Journal on Monday. "I don't know how it is today, but that's how it was 20 years ago."

Chapman said scrutiny of his private life by athletic department officials, boosters and others hastened his departure from Kentucky. He left after two seasons and entered the NBA draft in 1988.

Once, someone took a key and scrawled a racial epithet on his car door, he said. He said he was also the subject of obscene jokes.

"It's the climate of how things were," he was quoted as saying. "People were bothered by the fact that sometimes I dated black girls. Most preferred that I keep it confidential and hide it.

"I was being asked to lead a lifestyle that was absolutely wrong, simply for the fact that some people didn't like that I dated somebody of a different race," Chapman told the paper. "I mean, what is that? Is that America?"

The 37-year-old Chapman is now director of basketball operations for the Phoenix Suns and is working as a television analyst during the NBA playoffs.

Last week, Chapman suggested that race might have influenced the voting for the NBA's MVP award. It was won by Suns guard Steve Nash, who is white; he narrowly beat Miami star Shaquille O'Neal, who is black.

Later, in an interview with ESPN.com, Chapman again talked about race in MVP voting and the close watch on his dating habits at Kentucky.

Messages left with the Suns for Chapman by The AP were not immediately returned.

"I don't have an ax to grind," he said. "I love the University of Kentucky. I bleed blue.

"I won't name names, but I can think of at least a half-dozen times or more that somebody with the university asked that it stop or to be sure that it was kept inconspicuous," he said.

Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton, Chapman's coach at Kentucky, declined comment through a university spokeswoman. Larry Ivy, an athletic administrator during Chapman's time at Kentucky and later the school's athletic director, told The Courier-Journal he had no memory of anyone asking Chapman to stop dating black women.

Kenny Walker, who is black and played at Kentucky just before Chapman arrived, said he had no doubt Chapman was telling the truth.

"I'm amazed that people are like, 'Oh, man, did this actually happen?'" Walker told The Associated Press on Monday in a telephone interview. "A white guy dating black women off the court was just unheard of. That's why people were concerned about it. But I don't think Rex was really too concerned with how people viewed him. He did what he felt comfortable doing."

Walker, the school's second all-time leading scorer, said he was never pressured by school officials on whom to date.

"It was somewhat acceptable for a black player to date a white woman if he was a basketball player," Walker said. "For some reason, if that player was white and dated a black woman, he had to deal with a different type of pressure, a different type of
discrimination."

Chapman said his best friends at Kentucky -- Ed Davender and fellow teammate James Blackmon, both of whom are black -- were also discouraged from interracial dating.

"They liked the players enough to cheer for them at games, but they didn't like the players enough to let them date their daughters," Chapman told the Courier-Journal.

Neither Davender nor Blackmon said they could recall any such incident.

Blackmon said Monday he wasn't aware of any pressure put on Chapman about his dating habits but added, "If Rex said that that stuff happened, I'm pretty sure it did."

"I know that atmosphere was around him a little bit," Davender said, referring to Chapman.

Davender said no one at Kentucky tried to influence his dating choices.

"I dated who I wanted to," he told the AP.

Walker said Kentucky has made strides in race relations since he and Chapman played two decades ago.

"We've covered a lot of ground since Rex experienced some of those things he's talking about," Walker said. "Still, when you talk about some of the things Rex is talking about, those are things you're not proud of, things you have to keep trying to work on and improve."