Sometimes, a team and a player are just made for each other. It’s a rare gift, but when it happens, it has the power to change the trajectory for both. For Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies, that path may not have led to a championship, but the legacy it created has been arguably just as meaningful and transcendent.
Through eight seasons, Randolph became synonymous with Memphis, and his roughneck style of play has forever influenced how the Grizzlies, as a team and an organization, think about basketball. While Randolph and the Grit-n-Grind era is long gone, that ethos lives on in the new generation that is poised to take up the mantle.
On Thursday, Randolph told TMZ that he was no longer trying to make an NBA comeback, effectively (if not officially) closing the book on one of the more compelling and inspiring NBA careers in recent memory.
Z-Bo played for five teams throughout his NBA career and was twice named an All-Star during his Grizzlies days. During his most dominant stretch as a player, he was a 20-10 machine who punished his opponents in the post, even and especially as the game was changing around him and moving increasingly out toward the perimeter.
Randolph and Grizzlies prided themselves on an antithetical style of play and were able to use it to their advantage for many years, giving fits to some of the West’s elite teams as they went toe-to-toe for legendary playoff battles against the Warriors, Clippers, Thunder, and more.
Needless to say, his years in Memphis were his best and most memorable, especially after a rocky start to his career that saw him nearly become a league-wide pariah as he shuffled around to multiple teams before finding a home, and redemption, in Memphis. Given a new lease on his basketball life, Randolph made sure not to squander it, becoming a model citizen who connected with his community in Memphis and gave back with both his time and money.
Still, even though he may have sanded down some of those rough edges from his younger days, Randolph never gave an inch on the court, even as his career was winding down in Sacramento. Who can forget this exchange with DeMarcus Cousins, easily one of the most underrated trash talk moments in NBA history.
Nothing sums up Z-Bo better than that, and nothing was more gratifying than watching his defenders consistently try and fail to stop him as he bullied his way to the basket without the aid of quickness or finesse, just the type of sheer brute force that has become a relic of another time. The post is a lonelier place without him occupying it, unless you were on the other side trying to guard him.
The Grizzlies don’t have any championship banners hanging from the rafters, but what they do have are the jerseys from each of the figures, including Randolph, from their greatest era. They serve as a monument to toughness, hard work, and overcoming your past and your perceived disadvantages. It’s a legacy that fans of the Grizzlies view as fondly as a title.