Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

MikeCheck: Z-Bo’s Holiday Outreach Lands NBA’s Community Assist Award

By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – For 15 seasons, Zach Randolph has established a reputation as one of the toughest power forwards in the NBA when it comes to battling for every rebound or point in the paint.

But place Randolph in the middle of a Memphis apartment where utilities are being disconnected in the winter for non-payment, and the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Grizzlies’ veteran is nearly brought to tears.

“I know what it’s like to be in a position just like that, where your family is struggling a little bit and need some help,” Randolph says as his voice softens to a whisper. “I’ve been blessed to be in a position get through that, and I’m in a position where I try to help people whenever I can. That’s what this is about, more than anything in terms of getting recognition or the spotlight or anything.”

The spotlight is coming anyway for Randolph, who will be presented with the NBA Cares Community Assist Award for the month of January in recognition of his outreach in Memphis. The award, presented by Kaiser Permanente, honors an NBA player each month for giving back to their communities. Randolph will receive the award before Tuesday’s game against the Suns at FedExForum, where the NBA and Kaiser Permanente will donate $10,000 on Randolph’s behalf to the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation.

Randolph is being recognized for his involvement in several projects over the holiday season in Memphis that assisted children and families in need. During the Grizzlies’ Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service last month, Randolph and his teammates served lunch to more than 200 homeless men and women at the Memphis Union. Randolph also donated socks, clothes, gloves, coats and hats to children in needs over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Another program included Randolph partnering with Grizzlies’ guard Tony Allen to give 200 children from the Boys & Girls Club a shopping spree at Walmart.

It was hard, man, because as I stood there listening, tears were about to start coming from my eyes, too.. But it’s really about touching people, coming from the heart and being there with them. It’s really important to give back to the community and do this service.

But one of the most impactful moments of giving came in January, when for the seventh time in his career, Randolph donated $20,000 to MIFA Emergency Services Plus-1 Program to pay off past-due utilities bills for 200 Memphis households on the verge of having their electricity and heating turned off.

During a surprise visit to one household in January, Randolph stood in a darkened living room as a resident shared his story of having to beg the power company to delay disconnecting his services until the end of the week so that his wife and children could get through several nights of freezing temperatures. As the man spoke on one side of the room, his wife stood next to the Randolph wiping away tears.

“It was hard, man, because as I stood there listening, tears were about to start coming from my eyes, too,” Randolph said. “But it’s really about touching people, coming from the heart and being there with them. It’s really important to give back to the community and do this service.”

It’s been an emotional season for Randolph, whose mother, Mae, died on Thanksgiving day. Randolph has said he’s tried to honor her memory by continuing to commit to the charitable efforts both with his resources and his time. He also said he’s more engaged in community outreach efforts at this stage of his career than at any other time, because he appreciates the impact it has on families in need.

At each stop along the way, Randolph shares aspects of his own life having grown up under similar circumstances in a single-parent household in Indiana. He enters Tuesday’s game coming off one of his best performances of the season with 20 points and 11 rebounds in Sunday’s victory in Denver. It was the 15th double-double of the season for Randolph, who leads all NBA reserves in that category.

“Maybe I can do something even bigger with these programs when I’m done playing,” Randolph said. “To be in this situation, coming from where I came from and being able to relate, it means even more. You remember having to go to a next-door neighbor, going to your aunt’s house to get sugar, milk or bread. You understand. You know that feeling. That’s why it means so much to me. It’s a blessing.”