By David Fink
Handball lost its greatest champion on Tuesday, October 10, 2017, as David Chapman tragically passed away in his home at just 42 years of age. Everyone in the sport was impacted by Dave, having served as his student, opponent, friend, or admirer, and most cases, all of the above.
Chapman’s genius was unmistakable, drawing the admiration of the game’s greatest players, those who were watching the game for the first time, and all in between. Chapman’s unique personality was equally remarkable, as he was able to befriend people of all ages and backgrounds, inside and outside of handball. Dave was as at ease treating a billionaire to a fancy dinner as he was enjoying a beer with a novice player. Dave commanded a respect that could not be demanded, only earned through his supreme self-confidence. Dave was never arrogant, despite his incredible accomplishments, and was as equally self-deprecating as he was self-assured. So many people considered Dave to be their best friend, a testament to Dave’s magnetism, charisma, and willingness to spend time and listen. Although always focused at tournaments and trying to stay in his zone, Dave somehow always made time for everyone at the event, invariably leaving an indelible memory for all with whom he interacted. Dave was the kind of person you could never forget, whether you met him once or knew him for 30 years. Anyone who has any experiences with Dave will remember those experiences forever, as Dave always made every encounter with him unforgettable. Dave could blow up on the court and was extremely opinionated off of the court, but he never held a grudge. Dave never had a bad word to say about anyone, and if he had an argument with a player, a referee, or a friend, the argument always remained in the context of that specific event and never affected the friendship.
No matter where Dave played, whether it was St. Louis, Las Vegas, California, Australia, or anywhere in between, he always had a following. When Dave returned from a three-year hiatus to play in the Senior (40+) Big Ball Singes at the 2017 WPH Outdoor Vegas Lte in May, Dave had 25 fans travel from across the country to watch him play, along with every top pro and player in the event. Whatever match Dave played was the biggest match of the tournament. Following another one of his un-retirements in 2014, Dave faced then national finalist Martin Mulkerrins in a qualifier match at the R48 Houston. No one at that event will remember the final or any other match in that event, but they’ll all remember the lesson Dave taught Martin in that early-morning qualifier match.
Handball will never be the same without Dave. The sport lost a champion, a legend, a hero, a coach, a mentor, and one of the most personable, unique, and interesting people to ever play. Dave was near the top of his game just three weeks ago in Las Vegas, defeating the current national 1-Wall finalist, the current world 1-Wall champion, and the current 1WallBall world champion en route to the final. Dave was planning on a comeback to the R48 tour early next year, where he would have been competitive with any player on the circuit. For those of us who knew him well and even those who just watched and read about him, this is an impossible loss to accept.
If you have a favorite Dave Chapman story, please share by emailing us. We will read (if granted permission) your story on-air on ESPN during the Tucson Memorial, where we plan to pay tribute to Chapman and others: email@example.com.
I have so many great memories with Dave. Here are a few of mine:
Dave and I started recognizing each other for the first time in 1989 at the national events, he was 13, I was 11. Despite seeing each other five or six times a year for the next five years, we never spoke and probably only made eye contact a few times. I traveled to New York City for the first time in 1994 to play in the prestigious New York Athletic Club tournament and Dave and I and the tournament director ended up being the only people at the courts in the late afternoon on the day before the tournament. It felt awkward because here is this guy I had seen for years but never acknowledged. The tournament director asked us to go to lunch, and with nothing else to do and no excuses to make, we went. We finally spoke and I can remember thinking, “Why did I wait so long to talk to him, he is the greatest!” We hung out all night, walking around New York City and watching basketball. We’ve been best friends ever since.
The first time Naty Alvarado Jr. beat Dave was in the winter of 1996 in Wheeling, WV at an invitational tournament. Immediately after losing, Dave grabbed his bag and screamed, “I’m driving home now, you coming?” I was on winter break from college and staying in Pittsburgh, 60 miles from Wheeling. Of course I said yes, and rode 14 hours with Dave and Jimmy London in the middle of the night. I kept reminding Dave of the parade Naty was going to receive when arriving back home, complete with a float and confetti with the whole town of Hesperia celebrating. He would get so mad every time I mentioned it. Dave and Jimmy ate Taco Bell four times in 14 hours and I remember thinking, wow Dave is going to start putting on some serious weight. Dave was about 175 pounds at the time. We got back to Springfield, MO and he told me that I was only thin because I was 18 and that I’d be fat in five years. This was after he ate Taco Bell four times in 14 hours and I nibbled on apples! That was Dave.
Dave was like one of those shows that always leaves you with a cliffhanger, it’s so exciting, but you never really find out the whole story. He would give you just enough to leave you wanting more, while always holding back enough to keep you guessing. I’m sure that was intentional. Dave was the always multi-tasking, usually driving, texting, talking on the speaker phone, and talking to the people in his car. When he was at his house, he’d be texting, emailing, online gambling, and hosting a minimum of 15 people per day. It doesn’t surprise me that at least 20 people in the last 24 hours have told me that they spoke to Dave everyday. He spoke to six people at once all day!
When I was living with Dave we had a very unfriendly pool match, complete with heckling, intentional distracting, rules arguments, and screaming insults at each other and when it was over we weren’t speaking and I went and picked up a UHaul. I loaded all of my stuff, including my 100-pound bed frame and he came out to the driveway after the UHaul was filled and said, “So you’re leaving then?” Just the tone of his voice changed my mind and he and his group of 15 friends that were at the house helped me unload all of my stuff. Dave carried the hangers. We had so many cold wars, partly due to being upset with one another and partly to see who would crack first. Whether it was one hour or four days, whenever one of us spoke the cold war ended instantly and we were back to being best friends. I’m going to miss him so much.
Dave’s greatest quality might have been bringing people together and making his friends your friends. Most of the time you meet your friend’s friends, you have dinner and never see them again. Dave’s friends became your friends, even outside of him. Dave invited me to stay at his house in 2005 and told me then #5 pro Emmett Peixoto would be there as well. Emmett and I became great friends immediately and still are, all because of Dave connecting us. So many of Dave’s friends became my friends in my time living in St. Louis with Dave and years later, our friendships have endured. I also became friends with so many great people across the world because of Dave, friendships I cherish to this day. All of Dave’s friends had one thing in common, a deep loyalty and affection for Dave and wanting only the best for him. His friends were as unique as him, and fiercely protective of Dave and his legacy. Dave created friendships with not just me and his dozens of close friends, but with so many people he connected from around the world. So many of us will be connected for the rest of our lives because of Dave.
Perhaps my favorite and most special memory with Dave was at my wedding in January of 2010. My wife and I decided to elope to Vegas about four weeks prior to our wedding and leaked the news to a few of our good friends, Dave being one of them. Dave being Dave, acted as though he wasn’t enthused, as he always did. He never wanted you to think he was excited about something. He even said that he’d probably be in Vegas that weekend but probably couldn’t make the wedding. We arrived to the wedding chapel on Saturday night, meeting our eight friends. Dave was there, waiting for everyone as we arrived. After the ceremony, my wife and I had no plans and no idea what we were going to do. Dave motioned to me to head outside. Two stretch limousines were waiting in the parking lot. Dave opened the door for my wife and I and ushered the rest of the group into the other limo. He told the driver where to go and we were off. We arrived at one Vegas’ nicest restaurants inside the Wynn, where Dave had arranged a beautiful dinner for everyone to celebrate our wedding. My wife and I never saw a bill. Following the dinner, we did a little gambling and headed to the hottest nightclub in Vegas and were immediately ushered into the VIP section. We had one of the most fun and memorable experiences of our lives, all because of Dave. Dave never mentioned it, never asked to be thanked, he just did it because he loved us and that’s what he did for those he loved.
Dave Chapman was an icon and a living legend that not only changed the sport of handball, but changed so many lives through his friendship. Handball will never be the same without him, and neither will anyone’s life that knew him. Dave was simply the greatest. We’ll never forget you Dave and we’ll miss you forever.
The WPH will pay tribute to Dave Chapman, Ben Manning and all our handball friends that have passed over the past year and years before them at the Tucson Memorial, November 10th-12th, 2017. The Tucson Memorial Trophy will have Chapman & Manning’s Name engraved for prosperity and will be on display in a private section of the facility so you and yours can come pay respects and help us celebrate the lives of these amazing champions.
Submit your favorite Chapman story and we will read it live on the air on ESPN during the Tucson Memorial: firstname.lastname@example.org. WPH Film Crews will be scouring the crowd to ask players for their fondest memories as the WPH will play back all clips live.