Over the past three weeks, the Greatest Grizzly Tournament was a source of fun and enjoyment for many. With over 15,000 votes and plenty of debate and discussions, Grizzlies fans certainly made their thoughts and intentions known in regards to past and present Grizzlies. While there were a few surprises early on, as the rounds progressed the expected names remained. As sixteen names turned into eight, the decisions became harder to make. In the end, the final four came down to the four number one seeds, which were the Core Four of the Grit and Grind Era: Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Tony Allen.
Though some fans simply wanted to let the tournament end there, there was no intention of recreating Mt. Grizzmore. There was only room for one in the end, and his name is Zach Randolph.
This should not come as a surprise. Due to being a beast on the court and beloved off of it, Randolph was the top overall seed for multiple reasons. However, while Randolph winning the tournament may have been expected, the fact that he would win each matchup with at least 60% of the vote is significant. While the fans rightfully have embraced many over the history of the franchise, and each member of the Core Four will remain local legends, Randolph is in a class of his own.
On the court, there are a few worthy options that could rightfully challenge Randolph as being the best to ever play for the franchise. Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley, either over their time in Memphis or in individual seasons, had comparable production to Randolph. However, Randolph’s accomplishments stand out. He currently is among the top five players in franchise history in total rebounds, points, field goals, win shares, games, and minutes played. He was also the first player in franchise history to achieve multiple All-Star Game appearances.
Off the court, each member of the Core Four have become legends due to the love and effort they have shown for Grizzlies fans and the city of Memphis. Whether through working with local medical establishments, providing essential needs for thousands, or charitable events, Gasol, Conley, Allen, and Randolph established one of the best connections between a franchise and its fanbase in all of sports. While Allen may be a culture creator and the Grindfather, Z-Bo should be considered the cultivating force that made the Grit and Grind culture both strong and successful.
Whether the voting was based on statistics and scores or events and appearances, Randolph obviously had some worthy competition. However, what sets Randolph apart is not just the success he had, but how he did it. With a playing style that was unfiltered and an attitude that was unapologetic, Randolph’s hard-working and physical approach to the game was easy to admire and adore. Much of his success came from a mindset that he was going to succeed no matter what, with a high level of confidence that created an edge for him no matter how talented his opposition might be.
Beyond his confidence to succeed, Randolph stood out because he was a player who knew he would be successful based of how he played, a style that was truly all his own. Though never the most athletic or physically gifted, it was Randolph’s determination and effort that were always on an elite level. Randolph played his game in a way that maximized his skill sets, and made sure that anyone who stepped in his way would be pushed to their limit. Most of the time, they would be disappointed with results.
This is the biggest reason why Randolph seems to stand out in the minds and hearts of Memphis fans. He found success by doing thing his own way, and took pride in doing it. Much like many Memphians, when Randolph arrived here, it was clear he had all the potential in the world but was surrounded by more questions than answers. However, once the Grizzlies and the city embraced him, he found his path and went to work. Randolph’s hard-working, rugged, physical yet original approach to his craft was a basic embodiment of this fan base in their daily lives. Randolph recognized this, and embraced the love and support he was consistently shown. He clearly loved the opportunity to return the favor whenever he could.
Almost from the day he was acquired, it was clear that Memphis was the right place for Randolph. While Randolph did not the define the Grizzlies’ success and culture by himself, both he and the franchise complimented each other quite well. They each embraced the opportunity to exist as one, and as a result, both the player and the organization evolved into better versions of themselves than many expected. Randolph, the Grizzlies, and the fan base also made sure to enjoy the journey as much as the destination over the years, which is the main reason why Randolph’s time will have the lasting impact it has earned.
In reality, Randolph was a member of the Grizzlies for eight years. Seven of those years included playoff experiences and winning seasons that many got to enjoy in person numerous times. However, while Randolph made the city fall in love watching him live, it is the lasting memories that make him a legend. What makes that legacy endure is the relationships, efforts, and connections Randolph established and maintained off the court that he continues to embrace to this day.
Without a doubt, Zach Randolph is one of the best players to ever wear a Grizzlies uniform. He also is one of the most beloved sports figures in this city’s history due to love he has shown it for more than a decade. For these reasons, and many others, Randolph certainly has earned the title of Greatest Grizzly for now and many years to come.