It did not take Zach Randolph long to feel at home in Memphis. In just one season, the Grizzlies’ forward has made the Grizzlies’ relevant again and become the town’s newest and biggest sports celeb. He did it without a lot of flash, but was consistent. He outlasted debacles with brighter stars like Allen Iverson with hard-nosed and consistent basketball that re-established him as one of the best 20-10 power forwards in the league and sent him to the all-star game.
Now he’s ready for more. Ready to keep the Grizzlies’ attendance figures improving with play that’s more punch than promise, and ready, hopefully, to take this team to that first playoff win and beyond.
When did you first know that you had a talent for basketball?
When I was young. Just playing at the park, playing at the boys and girls clubs, just having a knack for the ball and loving the way I felt about the game. I always wanted to play. Just like now, I want to play, play, play.
Do you feel like the Grizzlies are moving in the right direction?
I definitely think this is a team that’s coming up. We’ve got a great point guard, a great two-guard, great three, great four, great five, so definitely. This is a team that’s on the rise. Young guys that love to play and love the game. That’s all you can ask for.
What can you guys improve going into next year?
I think we can improve on the bench. Improve on some long distance shooters that can knock down shots, and just have a stronger bench.
Did anything change for you this year, from a personal perspective?
Nothing. Really, nothing. People just go off what they hear from three of four years ago but they really don’t know a person. What happened was so long ago. So, nothing. Just being in a great situation. Memphis is a great city and this is a great organization. I’m just surrounding myself with the organization and the team. Young guys that love to play. We got out to a slow start but we picked it up and started winning.
What kind of relationship do you have with a lot of the guys on the team?
I look at these guys like my little brothers. Not like somebody I can just talk to about basketball, but can talk to about anything. I can tell them about stuff I’ve been through and what to do, and how to grow in the league. It’s the NBA and you can hit a lot of bumps in the road.
Does a good relationship with the coach have any effect on your success?
I just become focused. This is just my job and I love to play basketball, so I just approach it serious and take it serious, and try to win.
Did you change anything about your preparation this year?
Just my conditioning. Putting time in, working out, shooting jump shots, running, treadmills, all that stuff. I love the game. So I’m like this 82 in and out, even before I came to Memphis. If you can’t get inspired by the job you do, you shouldn’t be doing it. I work hard and I love to play.
Why do you think Memphians identify with you so well?
They respect people that work hard. There’s nothing that comes easy in Memphis, and they respect a hard worker.
Does your family like it here?
Yeah, of course! Man the city is great. Real family oriented with southern hospitality. Great food. Beale Street is great. Just feels like a small town. Close knit.
What’s your favorite restaurant?
I’d say Behinana’s.
How did you enjoy the Stax museum at Staxtacular [Grizzlies’ Charity Event]?
I was glad I got to go there and see that, it was a great event. It was nice, real nice. Learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know. Got to see Issac Hayes’ nice car, it was great.
What about the team visit to the Civil Rights museum?
That was emotional. You get to go out there and stand on the balcony where Dr. Martin Luther King got shot, it was real touching. There was a lot that I learned there.
Do you not like to dunk?
Naw, (laughs) I just leave that up to the young guys. You know, I just like to get it done.
Where did the headband first show up?
I’ve been doing the headband since Portland, since my rookie year. I like wearing it. A lot of the guys on my team, older guys, were wearing it, so it was cool.
You paid several people’s MLGW bills during the winter, what inspired that?
That was just something I wanted to do. I’ve been in that situation where I’ve been without lights, or food or whatever. It’s just something I wanted to do to help. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a little bit or a lot. I was just trying to help out.
You also gave away 500 tickets to one game.
There’s a lot of people that want to see our games that aren’t able to. For me to do something like that, it was real important to me. To see the line that was out there, the scene, you know, the people that wanted to see us play, it meant a lot to me.
Attendance was up this year, but still could improve. What can you guys do to get more people coming to the games?
We just have to play well so the fans will support us. Fans are a big part of the organization. Players feed off energy from the fans. We just got to keep on winning games and make them understand how important it is for them to come to these games. It ain’t fun playing in front of an empty house, or when we score we just hear a little clap. We love having the fans in the stands.
After all this, how big of a priority is it for you to stay in Memphis after next season?
It’s real big to stay here and grow with this team because we’re right there. It’s real important to bring Rudy back, first of all. First priority is to bring Rudy back. It’s a good core and we need to keep it. We’re right there.
By Doug Gillon, Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE