After learning that Nelson Mandela had died Dec. 5 at the age of 95, Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph wasted little time paying homage to the former South Africa president.
Said Randolph of Mandela via Twitter: “One of The Greatest Moments of My Life…Blessed to have had the Pleasure to be in his presence and to Shake the Hand of One of The Most Prominent, Powerful Men Ever!”
Randolph was recalling his visit to Johannesburg, South Africa as part of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders tour during his second year in the league while the 13-year-veteran was a member of the Portland Trailblazers. Basketball Without Borders, or BWB, is the NBA and FIBA’s global basketball development and community outreach program that unites young basketball players to promote the sport and encourage positive social change in the areas of education, health, and wellness.
Since its inception in 2001, at least two dozen camps have been held in 13 cities and 11 countries on five continents, according to BWB’s mission at NBA.com. While visiting Johannesburg, Randolph not only partnered with local community groups to lead daily life-skills sessions aimed at enhancing the importance of education, leadership, character development, health and wellness, but the two-time All-Star also had the luxury of meeting and interacting with Mandela, arguably the most celebrated figured in South African history.
Often described as the “world’s most famous political prisoner,” Mandela is widely remembered for having spent 27 years in prison after being charged in 1962 for inciting a strike amid the African National Congress protests.
“It was tough,” said Randolph, when asked how he reacted after learning of Mandela’s passing. “He was one the greatest leaders who sacrificed for people and his country and it’s a legacy he leaves as one the greatest leaders of this world.”
Randolph said that while he and Mandela didn’t engage in a lengthy dialogue, he described his experience in meeting one of the world’s renowned political figures as a defining moment during the BWB tour in which he was “star struck.”
“Oh man, it was great,” Randolph said. “Nelson’s a great man. That was the greatest moment of my life meeting a man like that. It was a blessing. I was blessed. Don’t you know how many people who want to meet a man like that?”
Among the things, Randolph said, he deemed most intriguing about Mandela was his admiration for sports. Mandela’s
last public appearance reportedly was in July of 2010, when he attended the final match and closing ceremonies of the soccer World Cup held in South Africa. Besides soccer, Mandela also was a fixture for watching NBA games, said Randolph, the Grizzlies leading scorer.
“He’s an NBA fan,” Randolph said of Mandela, whose memorial service took place in Johannesburg on Dec. 10. “You know he watches the NBA. Everybody’s an NBA fan. It was a dream to meet that guy and to be able to do that (partake in BWB tour).”
Randolph said Mandela will forever hold a place not just in his heart, but in his home.
“(The trip to South Africa) inspired me,” Randolph said. “I mean, I got his picture up at my house of me and him, so that’s big. I talk to my kids about him and explain to them about him. My daughter got books on him, so she reads up on him. He’s big for me and my family.”