At the Grizzlies preseason media day, Steven Adams was asked how it felt to be the oldest member of the team. His response was quite friendly: “It cuts me deep. Why would you say it, you bastard?” He was also asked why he has chosen to wear #4 in Memphis. In response, he joked that “all the cool numbers were gone” but that he also wanted to honor his former teammate Nick Collison from Oklahoma City.
You may, of course, remember Nick Collison from the good ol’ days, back when he mainly served as a glorified crash dummy for Zach Randolph in numerous scrums across the Grit and Grind era. That’s in no way meant as disrespect to Collison, who carved out a 15-year career as a successful journeyman all with the Sonics/Thunder franchise. But he was a journeyman for a reason, and he never found much success in trying to stop Randolph.
Steven Adams, on the other hand, did manage to stop Zach Randolph. In fact, he managed to completely take him out of a game depending on how you look at it and ensured that the Grizzlies would lose a playoff series.
Now there are few objective observations I’m going to make about this...interaction between Adams and Randolph, and I think seven years of hindsight will benefit me in doing so.
First (and this’ll be the most painful one for Grizzlies fans to admit), the Grizzlies were probably not going to win that game 7 on the road in 2014 against the reigning MVP in Kevin Durant with or without Z-Bo. That’s not to say that the Grizzlies weren’t capable of doing it. After all, they had already beaten the Thunder two out of three times in Oklahoma City during that series. It’s more because I think the NBA had a massive interest in the Thunder and said reigning MVP advancing past the first round. Now I’m not saying that Adam Silver would have dusted off Tim Donaghy for game 7. I’m just saying that he would have probably considered it.
Second, I’ve always respected how Steven Adams doesn’t even respond at all after Z-Bo hits him. He doesn’t even say a word; he just walks away and looks like he’s wondering about what he’s going to have for dinner. That’s wild. Everyone, including but not limited to Blake Griffin and DeMarcus Cousins, generally turtled when Zach Randolph antagonized them. And for good reason! Z-Bo might have a good heart, but he’s dangerous. That’s fine though. Steven Adams has a taste for danger.
So in summary: Zach Randolph lost his temper at very little provocation, he hits Steven Adams, and he costs himself the right to help his team win a playoff series on the road in a pivotal game 7. And the response of Grizzlies fans for years to this incident has been...to dislike Steven Adams? Sure, the NBA wouldn’t have suspended Kevin Durant for doing what Randolph did, but what does Adams have to do with that? Regardless, fandom can be a disease, and Steven Adams has long been collateral damage of that disease in Memphis.
However, the disease that fandom can bring is much like that of partisan politics, in that it forces you to support whomever ends up on your side. Mario Chalmers literally ruined my childhood with a buzzer-beater back in 2008 when he was at Kansas, but you better believe that I was cheering my heart out along with everyone else when he made a game-winner in a Grizzlies uniform back in 2015. I wasn’t unique in that regard; if you were a Memphian, you probably hated Mario Chalmers, until you didn’t. The uniform, not the player, almost always dictates our opinion.
Now that he’s a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, you’re not going to hate or dislike Steven Adams. In fact, you’re probably going to love him. As he demonstrated at his media session, he’s genuinely funny and compelling. He is unapologetically exactly who he is, which for a city that appreciates realness, is more than a welcome addition.
He’s also nothing more than a bridge to help guide the Grizzlies to what they ultimately will become. Just like Jonas Valanciunas before him, Steven Adams probably won’t be the starting center on the next (first?) legitimate Grizzlies title contender. Depending on how much Jaren Jackson Jr. develops as a rebounder and paint presence going into his fourth year in the league, it remains to be seen whether Adams will even be the full-time starting center this year. I will be legitimately surprised if he’s still in Memphis for the duration of the remaining two years on his contract, both because of Jaren and because the $17.9 million that he’s owed in the expiring year of his contract (2022-2023) makes for enticing trade bait.
But Steven Adams already made you remember him because of one lone moment in time. If we’re lucky, we may just get to have a few more with him, even if he’s not meant to have a Nick Collison-esque tenure in Memphis.