MikeCheck: ‘Checking In’ during NBA hiatus with Grizzlies legend Zach Randolph
For now, the games have ceased as league players, team officials and fans continue to cope with the global Coronavirus health crisis that’s forced the NBA’s hiatus.
But for the Grizzlies and the league’s 29 other teams, the business and spirit of the game forge ahead as franchises try to make an impact in their communities during these challenging times. When the season was suspended March 12, Memphis was positioned to make the playoffs for the first time in three years as one of the NBA’s youngest and most rapidly improving teams.
Whenever the season resumes, count on the Grizzlies to be ready.
Meanwhile, the organization continues to prioritize the health, safety and security of the franchise and the region it calls home. Grind City Media will use this space each week to ‘Check In’ with the latest on the Grizzlies and the community as they get through the hiatus together.
This week GCM checks in with former Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph, who recently contributed $20,000 to Shelby County Schools for students and families to offset food insecurities.
Grind City Media: From coat drives to paying utility bills for the less fortunate to everything else, you’ve always been eager to step up for the Memphis community in times of need. Discuss the latest efforts for Shelby County Schools as this city and region cope with COVID-19?
Randolph: You know, with all the stuff going on and with Memphis being my city and home, it’s just about giving back. I’m looking to do more back in Indiana, where I’m from, too. And it’s just trying to be impactful when I can during these tough times. Giving back to Shelby County Schools and things like that, it’s what I’ve always been about. With me, you know it’s not about media coverage or any attention. I’ve been doing this from my heart, and it’s always been like that. For me, I wouldn’t care if it all went without any attention. It’s about the people, man.
GCM: As someone with school-aged kids and a person who knows how important maintaining the education process is for children and families, how personal was this donation to the school system in this direct way? Why is it important to you to help make sure kids have the access at home to food supplies needed in this difficult time?
Randolph: We want to help make this process as comfortable as possible in difficult times, because I was once one of these kids. I know this is a different time and stuff, but it’s still (a case of) the haves and have-nots. I was one of those have-nots that needed that extra help, needed that extra lunch and got help from the school system. I can relate to all of that during these times, man. I’ve been able to get to a blessed place in life and I want to be a blessing, man. When you’re in the position to give, God wants you to give. That’s why He blesses you. And I know in my heart, it’s all about giving and sharing a blessing in times of need like this with this Coronavirus crisis. There’s a lot going on around this country and around the world, people are scared right now. We need to pull together and help each other the best way we can.
GCM: You played at a high level in the NBA for two decades, including a time in 2011 when the NBA endured a work stoppage. Circumstances are completely different this time, whereas a global health pandemic caused this stoppage. But what are some of the challenges NBA players face during these times of uncertainty?
Randolph: What players have to go through in a time like this, it’s all about staying together. It’s a different animal, but it starts with staying in shape, keeping your head right. The league is so much younger now, so that’s a big thing for these young guys. You want to keep them connected and together as they go through this. Hopefully this passes and we can get back to our everyday life, and things can continue like they were on a regular schedule.
Back when we had that situation in 2011, basically I stayed in. I tried to work out every day. I stayed in Memphis. We had this trainer in Memphis and he stayed with us and he had me coming back in the best shape ever, because I wanted to make the most of that extra time. I did the right thing. I devoted myself, and with my financials, I just tried to be solid with my money. It was still a tough time, not really knowing when things would change during that lockout period. But they made it work and we were able to come back and finish out strong.
GCM: Just before this season was suspended last month, you were back in Memphis in sort of a role as a team and community ambassador, attending games and greeting fans. Considering all that has happened since, how much more do those moments last month mean to you, especially in a community that you’ve shared so much with on and off the court?
Randolph: You know that feeling when you’re coming home and you’re getting so much love? That feeling when you’ve been gone so long and you come back to people you can’t wait to see and people who can’t wait to see you? It’s like you’ve got your mom at the house and you got the family there that’s missed you. It’s one of those type of feelings, man. I couldn’t stop smiling from all the love from the fans and the organization, man. It’s just everything, and it felt so good. It’s going to get better once the season starts again. I’m going to be around a lot more and I hope to be able to help do some things for the organization and help this team and these players any way I can. You know me, it’s just about doing it any way I can.
GCM: There have been numerous stories about your business ventures, with ownership stakes in professional basketball in Australia, investments in music and entertainment projects and more. How is Z-Bo the basketball star transitioning to Z-Bo the business mogul?
Randolph: It’s a lot, man. I’m an entrepreneur who’s got a lot going on off the court right now, just trying to build that part of it up. I’m also getting a lot more involved in real estate. A lot of my friends and contacts that are in different businesses, I’ve been doing more stuff with them, just trying to learn as much as I can. I want to spread my wings and try to learn. I’ve retired from the NBA now, so I’m breaking myself down and going into the business side. I’m thinking about going to business school, too. I’m in the second part of my life, in a way. So it’s just about breaking myself down to learn. I’m a sponge with everything, and I just want to learn everything. I learn every day, and I just want to stay open to learning.
GCM: You just used the ‘R’ word: Retirement. But this next phase of your career also includes playing in Ice Cube’s Big3 league. How did that come about, and how excited are you to potentially be part of something that helps bring sports back to society once the crisis clears?
Randolph: You know I’ve still got some game left, right (laughs)? I still love to play and I’m going to go out there and have some fun. I can play every day. I do anyway with my kids, my daughter and my son. So, it’s just loving the game, man. And this Big3 gives me a chance to go out there and kick a little ass, still (laughs). I’ve got a relationship with Cube, and I’ve known Joe Johnson for years. These guys just like playing ball and talking business. We get a chance to all get together, have fun, play a little halfcourt ball and still interact with all of our fans. We try to make it a fun experience. It’s a great league and a great thing Cube is doing.
It would be really big for us to be a part of bringing the game back to fans in some way. It’s just a matter of doing it the right way, making sure everybody is first healthy and safe. I think that would be big for everybody, for basketball and the fans of the game worldwide.
GCM: Grizzlies owner Robert Pera has already said your No. 50 will ultimately hang in the rafters at FedExForum, alongside your Core 4 brothers Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen. As that process comes closer into view, what are your best memories of being on that court? When you tell your grandkids one day about being with Memphis, what’s the story you’ll share?
Randolph: Oh my goodness! A poor kid from Marion, Indiana, came from a poor, single-parent home, the oldest of four siblings, mother on welfare . . . oh, man! Wow. I might cry, man, because, you know, I was a statistic, man. I was coming from a bad place. I came from nothing, you know. So, for me to be where I’m at and to accomplish what I did, to get the love every time I come back home to Memphis – people don’t always get that. They don’t always get that kind of genuine love everywhere, man. It don’t always happen like that. I’ve been around, and I know you don’t always see it.
And it just makes me feel good and love the city even more and love everything about the organization. It’s just been a blessing. And I just thank God for putting me on this path and bringing me through it. My character makes me who I am. I’ve been through things before. So I’ve been a strong, resilient person, man. And it’s going to be great to see my brothers up there with me, too - Mike, T.A., Marc. We did it together. I reached out to Mike the other day, and I check on Marc, T.A., too. We’re family. You know how it is. It’s Grit’N’Grind for life, man.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.