Chapman glad to discard small-town microscope Expectations have hounded new Bullet

February 21, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- The weight of great expectations can be a burden for a gifted, young athlete.

No one knows this better than Rex Chapman, whom the Washing- ton Bullets acquired Wednesday from the Charlotte Hornets for forward Tom Hammonds.

Yesterday, the acrobatic fourth-year shooting guard seemed relieved to have been traded to a major metropolis.

"When I played two years at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, all anyone cared about was Wildcats basketball," Chapman said. "And it's the same thing with the Hornets in Charlotte -- the only game in town. I always wanted to play in a major city, like New York, Los Angeles or Washington, where sports fans have more choices."

And, perhaps, more realistic goals for a young professional who has been labeled a basketball prodigy since being selected a consensus high school All-American at Apollo High in Owensboro, Ky. Deemed a natural state resource, he gravitated to UK, where his No. 3 jersey remains the best seller in the gift shop.

When Chapman turned pro after his sophomore season, he already was being compared to NBA legend Jerry West. As Marty Blake, head of the NBA scouting bureau, said before the 1988 draft: "If I had $100 for every 'next Jerry West' I've seen, I'd have retired long ago. I think Chapman will do just fine in the NBA if he becomes another Danny Ainge."

But the expansion Hornets wanted much more than "another Ainge" when they made the 20-year-old Chapman their first draft choice, and the eighth pick overall. They rated the flamboyant guard a superior player and drawing card than 6-foot-11 center Rony Seikaly of Syracuse, who was the next player chosen, by the Miami Heat.

"People don't realize that the first NBA game I ever saw was the first one I played in with the Hornets in 1988," said Chapman, who became an instant starter.

"I took a lot of lumps and played horribly the first 20 games before I started feeling comfortable. But I believe I played solid basketball my last 2 1/2 years in Charlotte."

Even though he has missed the past 31 games while nursing a painful heel injury, Chapman ranks as the all-time Hornets scorer (3,574), averaging 16.3 points.

Still, rumors of trades to the San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks surfaced last summer before Chapman signed a four-year extension worth $8 million.

"This should squelch any talk about us trading Rex," said coach Allan Bristow. "Rex is going to be here a long time."

Chapman said jokingly, "That was like the kiss of death."

Team management began to view Chapman in a different light as Kendall Gill and Dell Curry proved attractive alternatives.

Through his agent, David Falk, of ProServ in Arlington, Va., Chapman informed the Hornets he would prefer a change in scenery.

"I'd gone through a lot of chaotic changes -- three head coaches and front-office coups," Chapman said. "I really thought I needed a change of atmosphere."

Falk's first stop was in Washington, where general manager John Nash has been a Chapman booster since his 76ers days.

"We talked to three or four teams about Rex," said Falk, "but the Bullets were a perfect fit as far as the salary cap was concerned.

"Rex is 4 years older than when he joined the league, and a lot more mature," Falk added. "I think [Bullets coach] Wes Unseld will ring out his full potential as a player."

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