Memphis, Tennessee is one of my favorite cities to visit. It may not offer the scenery of Las Vegas and Miami, but it’s amazing, to say the least.
While it’s well-known for their mouth-watering food, blues and entertainment (Beale Street), the people are what always stood out. Being that I have a large amount of family living there, I experienced the genuine sincerity that Memphians have.
People from Memphis will embrace a stranger as if they are their own. If you don’t believe me, just ask Zach Randolph.
Prior to coming to the home of Yo Gotti and A&R Bar-B-Que, Randolph played in Portland, New York and Los Angeles (Clippers). While those are amazing cities, Randolph didn’t connect there like he did in Memphis. During that time, Randolph was viewed in any negative way one can think of.
On the hardwood, Randolph’s teams failed to make the postseason and to no surprise, he was labeled a loser. As we know, labels carry a lot of weight in the NBA. Whenever someone is labeled in a bad way, it’s hard to change the perception.
After being traded to Memphis, it was expected that it was yet another destination where Z-Bo would put up empty stats and lose. Given his past history it wasn’t hard to see that it was forthcoming, but something clicked in Z-Bo that even the folks on NetBet couldn’t predict how his fate as an NBA player and person would change.
From the beginning, Randolph, the Grizzlies and the city of Memphis hit it off. From rubbing shoulders with rapper Moneybagg Yo to former mayor A.C. Whorton, Z-Bo had a cult like following. His jovial personality could touch people of all walks of life, and the cherry on top was that he was a hell of a basketball player.
During his stint with the Grizzlies, he made two All-Star appearances, led his team to the playoff seven times, and became a folk hero in the process. I remember going to Memphis in the summer of 2013, and every where I went I saw the No. 50 jersey etched on the backs of countless fans.
It didn’t take long for the city to become enamored with the master of the paint that could barely jump over a phone book. Memphis changed the landscape of Randolph’s career and he gave them an identity and promise that they sorely lacked for since entering the NBA.
In the mid-2000s, they made the playoffs led by a calmer Jason “White Chocolate” Williams and Pau Gasol, but their success didn’t warrant anything more than a pat on the back.
The ‘Grit-and-Grind’ Grizzlies were the total opposite. Led by Randolph’s hard-nosed style of play, locals gravitated to Z-Bo’s Grizzlies. Ignited by defense and playing a ground-and-pound game led by Marc Gasol and Randolph, the blue-collar nature of the team embodied the city of Memphis. Although they didn’t bring home a championship, there were some memorable times for them.
In 2011, the eighth-seeded Grizz shocked the world as they defeated the top-seeded Spurs in the playoffs – only the second time in league history where the 8th seed beat the 1st seed in a best-of-seven first round series. Led by Randolph, the Grizzlies put the basketball world on notice going forward.
As time evolved, the Grizzlies became a prominent team in the NBA. Gasol received the national recognition, Mike Conley Jr. got paid the big bucks, but Z-Bo was the heartbeat of the team and the city.
The sad thing about sports is that all good things must come to an end. Although he spent several years playing in other NBA cities, it’s going to look strange seeing him in another jersey. In wake of Randolph’s two-year deal to play for the Sacramento Kings, it’s only right to pay homage for what he did in Memphis–on and off the court.
Seeing the soon to be 37-year-old Randolph leave Memphis is sad, but that’s the business aspect of professional sports that fans hate. For eight years, the Grizzlies faithful got blood, sweat and tears from one of the hardest working players in recent memory.
For Grizzlies fans, I know his departure is tear-jerking, but while he was there, you had the luxury of shouting ZEEE-BO in FedExForum or in the comfort of your home. In that time, he brought, joy, triumph and success previously unseen in Shelby County.
Randolph may have been born in Marion, Indiana, but no matter where he plays, Memphis is his home. As Z-Bo rides in his Rolls Royce Wraith into the Beale Street sunset, it’s important to understand that for eight years, he, the Grizzlies and the city of Memphis were a match made in heaven.
Columbus, Ohio born. Ron is a first-ballot healthy hairline hall of famer. He spent the summer of ‘08 eating calamari pasta because of OJ Da Juiceman. He also loves to write about sports while listening to Sada Baby. Follow him on Twitter @Ron_Hamp