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The aura of Zach Randolph

Zach Randolph will soon be the first player to have his jersey in the rafters of FedExForum, and it’s only perfect that he’s the first.

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San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Six Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Zach Randolph is getting his jersey officially retired and hung up in the rafters of the FedExForum, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s the first Grizzly player to have this done.

There’s this different mystique around Randolph on and off the court — something that may not transcendent with any other player that’s donned this Beale Street Blue. The aura and energy in the building whenever would step on the floor is unlike anything we were used to seeing in Memphis, especially for the Grizzlies. It was truly one of a kind.

The Grindhouse was buzzing.

Your voice would be gone from chanting “Z-Bo!” repeatedly.

Those moments created goosebumps.

You could feel the electricity in the building whenever he got going.

And I don't even need clips or highlights for anyone to know which moments I’m talking about. Let’s start with this visual here. Zach Randolph would get the ball in the low post. He’d size up his defender.

Jab.

Jab. Maybe another one for good measure.

Sometimes, there would be a dribble or two to generate separation or momentum from his defender. Nonetheless, Randolph was going to go for that fadeaway — and more often than not, it’d find the bottom of the net. Defenders could do their best to stop it, but their only solution was to just hope he’d miss, regardless of the pressure applied.

Like Thanos, it was inevitable.

“He was gonna get is,” fellow GBB Senior Staff Writer Shawn Coleman said. “and other teams were not going to have fun seeing him do it.”

You’d have thoughts that circulated when Randolph was battling down low. If he missed the layup, he’d find a way to grab the rebound. And again. And maybe again, before getting that bucket.

Z-Bounds were what many Grizzly faithful will know that sequence as.

He was going to get that rebound and bucket — that wasn’t a prediction; it was a spoiler.

You could feel that buzz from the arena in those moments. With each jab step, each Z-Bound, and each bucket, the crowd’s energy level would rise. Everybody in the building knew Z-Bo was about to bust someone’s ass.

The noise would crescendo as the moments got bigger, and it reached its highest octaves in the 2011 and 2013 postseason — specifically against the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers.

San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Six Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The inevitability and the dominance were heavily on display in the Spurs series. In a battle with multiple Hall-of-Famers on the other side — one arguably being the greatest power forward this game has ever seen — it was Zach Randolph that stood out as the best player on the floor in those 6 games. There was simply no answer for him. Bruising veteran big man Antonio McDyess? Nope — party’s over, grandpa. The stocky, solid youngster Dejuan Blair? No way, young fella. Hall-of-fame big man Tim Duncan? Nope.

Randolph, in that series, gave the city of Memphis a glimpse of somethings they haven’t seen before — how postseason success feels, how an environment gets in crucial playoff basketball, and what it looks like to see a star take over in those big moments.

The same vibe was felt in the Los Angeles Clippers series in 2013. A year after falling to this squad in the 1st round of the 2012 playoffs, you could sense the energy around this Grizzlies team, and specifically Zach Randolph — payback.

Randolph was just ruthless against the Clippers. Against a team more known for showtime pizzazz and Hollywood theatrics, Randolph bullied them and just beat the hell out of them with his brute force and ground-and-pound, in-the-mud style game.

“He’d hit those sweet jumpers on one end and then put Blake Griffin on the floor,” longtime columnist, currently Daily Memphian columnist Geoff Calkins described it. “And then “Whoop That Trick” would crank up and air itself would shake.”

Even against an all-time great like Tim Duncan, or a dazzling young phenom like Blake Griffin, Zach Randolph was rising above. Though he didn’t wow the ground with highlight-reel dunks or anything, he combined stellar footwork and precise techniques — both in the post and on the glass — with sheer force and physicality to get the Grizzlies where they needed to go.

For that good stretch, you could make a legitimate argument that Zach Randolph was the best power forward in the NBA. Having someone that was the best at their position was something the Grizzlies weren’t used to having.

Phoenix Suns v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Though the moments of Randolph’s ruthless dominance stand out the most, he also provided the Grizzlies a strong source of reliability and stability over the years.

Zach Randolph was going to compete and battle it out to put the Grizzlies in a position to win each and every night. The time of year or quality opponent didn’t matter — lottery mainstay, dominant contenders, teams in or out of conference, during the thick of the playoff race, or on a random Tuesday night in November.

It was a primary reason he got dubbed the nickname, “first-name twenty, last-name ten.” That level of consistency was a penchant for his time in Memphis, and it often propelled the Grizzlies more often than not. At times, all they had to do is feed the hand, and any of this series of moves would follow.

Face up. Jab, jab, fadeaway.

Entry pass. BOOM! BOOM! Defender clearly moved out of position, layup.

Missed shot, rebound, putback. Sometimes repeated.

Entry pass, dribble, dribble, drive towards the paint. Hook shot.

These particular moments may spark some memories. His moves weren't flashy poster dunks or crossovers that end up on Ball is Life or Overtime years removed from his playing days. Nonetheless, they were productive, got the job done, and still gave us just as much entertainment.

“Every time he’d get fed the ball on the block you could feel everyone inside FedExForum getting ready for the magic he was about to do to score the ball,” GBB Associate Editor Brandon Abraham said. “He made a ‘boring’ style of basketball fun as hell.”

Even in a macro sense, Zach Randolph provided a stability and reliability in that he elevated the Grizzlies and gave them a really high floor each season — though the ceiling and the level of success for the team was higher with him as the team’s best player. When he arrived to Memphis, he led the charge in the Grizzlies’ transformation from a cellar-dweller to a playoff contender in one season, as they experienced a 16-win spike from the 2008-09 to 2009-10 seasons.

You could always count yourself in on being in the mix for a good record and playoff positioning with Randolph on the roster.

“When Zach Randolph was on the court for the Grizzlies, there was an unshakeable feeling of confidence and comfort in knowing that Grizzlies were going to be competitive,” Coleman said.

If we’re being honest, the “Grit ‘n’ Grind” era wouldn’t have happened without Zach Randolph and the level of play that brought the Grizzlies to NBA heights that Memphis haven’t experienced before.

Zach Randolph Distributes Holiday Food Baskets Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Most people on the outside would recognize Zach Randolph for being a great player with a mesmerizing old-school game. That’s fair to say. However, people in Memphis — or people that really know him — also think of his unbelievable work off the floor as well.

“He meant so much to the city on and off the court,” Memphis Flyer beat writer Sharon Brown said. “He cares genuinely for people. Giving back to him is real, it wasn’t just a photo op. It was genuine and people knew that. You’d hear about him giving folks stuff when cameras weren’t around. That is what makes him so special.”

Randolph’s off-the-court work is highlighted heavily in Grind City Media’s documentary on his tenure in Memphis — and by the way, I HIGHLY recommend watching this...it deserves an award. When it comes to his off-the-court work, everyone typically points to how he paid MLGW utility bills for hundreds of families in the city. He also bought turkeys for a Thanksgiving drive on his own to distribute in the community. He hosted basketball camps, spoke to students at school, and took them Christmas shopping to help them learn the concept of budgeting. He sought to relationships and to brighten people’s days — from mentees, to kids with special needs, to St. Jude patients, and to anyone that needed a pick-me-up.

As St. Jude patient (and my wonderful fiancée) Allie Allen described it — Z-Bo made good days great.

“He saw me and supported me through the different stages of my cancer: when I had hair and couldn’t stand up, when I was bald and felt terrible and when I was in a wheel chair and now, when I have lots of good days. ZBO’s a big guy and his heart is just as big as he is,” Allen said of her relationship with Randolph. “I think Zach Randolph means so much to the Memphis community, but especially to me. I can’t imagine a life without knowing him or without our unique friendship.”

As the saying goes — if you embrace Memphis, then Memphis will embrace you. And Zach Randolph embraced it with a big Grizzly bear hug.

“The moment he uttered, ‘I love my city, man, they love me back. It’s a blue-collar town; I’m a blue-collar player,’ things changed,” 92.9 ESPN’s Connor Dunning said. “Z-Bo gave Memphis a platform. He was a voice for the voiceless. He made everyone, and I mean everyone, feel seen. He was a symbol for hope. He came during what many refer to, the beginning of Memphis’ renaissance. Timing too perfect to be true, straight from a Scorsese script.”

Los Angeles Clippers v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Six Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

No, there won’t be many players in franchise history with the mystique and aura of Zach Randolph. There are two ways in which I want to close with though.

First off, Randolph was paramount in ushering a new wave of Grizzlies fans. There was a generation of young Memphians rising up and seeing a good Grizzlies team — something previous ones couldn’t boast.

“ZBo to me was the catalyst for the Grizzlies success that has lasted until today,” Grizzlies Twitter personality Bryson Wright said. “The hard-nosed, blue-collar play-style was very indicative of the city itself and it really brought a different vibe to the Grizzles all together. I’ve always been a Grizzlies fan but ZBo made me take my fandom to another level!”

Randolph was a glimpse to new fans for what a superstar player in your city was all about.

“He’s also the first player on my favorite team I’ve witnessed have a run of games where he acted as a superstar,” Edward McKinnon of Roll Call Sports said. “The 2011 playoffs was my first true introduction to the Grizzlies officially as a fan. Watching his dominant run through both playoff series in 2011 is the reason I love basketball and am pursuing sports journalism as career right now.”

And for some, he helped a young generation not just fall in love with the Memphis Grizzlies, but with the game of basketball.

“I saw my first live NBA game in 2014 and fell in love with the sport and the team,” former Blue World Order writer Eric Lentz said of Randolph. “ZBo was a large part of that. He made you want to root for this small market team who just did their own thing when the league did something different.”

And finally, he gave Memphis something they haven’t had from a professional athlete (on a professional team, at least) — a superstar. He may not have met the criteria for the NBA and national media’s definition of a superstar. Given his level of production, his impact on winning, and his transcendence in the city, he’s a superstar.

And Randolph is so fitting as Memphis’ first superstar. He’s “a blue-collar player in a blue-collar city.” He emphasized the love of Memphis, and reminded us that we don’t — and won’t — bluff.

“Zach Randolph was the right player for the right time with the right team,” GBB Site Manager Joe Mullinax said. “When Zach Randolph won, so did Memphis - even when the Grizzlies lost. And when Zach fell short, so too did the city that has taken him in like a son. And both sides would want it no other way.”

Because of what Zach Randolph provided to the city, on and off the court, he laid out a blueprint of how to be a superstar for the Memphis Grizzlies. He did so when he passed the torch to Marc Gasol and Mike Conley towards the end of his tenure. He did the same for this next iteration of Memphis Grizzlies basketball for Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and whomever may follow that path.

Zach Randolph is the perfect person to be the first Grizzly to have his jersey retired and hung in the rafters of the FedExForum. There won’t be many other players in franchise history with the same aura around him and with the significant impact he provided in his 8 seasons here.

He took us places we’ve never been before, gave us experiences that we’ve never seen before, and embraced Memphis for the amazing place it is - as it should be.

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