Randolph Makes Presence Felt
The 17th-year veteran has provided strength and leadership on the court, as well as in local communities.
For over a decade and a half, Zach Randolph has personified brute force on the NBA hardwood, imposing his way into the paint with a devastating combination of strength and willpower.
Off the court, the big man’s philanthropy has been just as powerful, from compensating tens of thousands of dollars toward helping families pay utility bills, to donating countless holiday meals and winter coats to underprivileged youth.
“It’s really important to me,” he said. “That’s what I do – I give back. I do it from the heart. A lot of guys do stuff to be seen or to get praised for it. It’s not like that. It’s genuine.”
Despite playing in his 17th NBA season, the two-time All-Star hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be poverty-stricken, the memories of wearing the same clothes to high school in Marion, Ind., day after day, still fresh in his mind.
Even after agreeing to a contract with the Kings last summer, “Z-Bo” pledged to continue his annual donation to the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Plus-1 Program, and expects to similarly contribute to disadvantaged households across Northern California.
“Growing up without (money) – being that guy who grew up not having (much) – I saw people in need, and I thought, ‘You know what? I think it would be cool if I did a donation,’” he said. “It’s just something I want to do, and it’s going to continue.”
In seven weeks, Randolph, a player who was pivotal in establishing the definitive ‘Grit N’ Grind’ identity in Southeastern Tennessee, will return to his adopted hometown as an iconic figure, with his No. 50 jersey on the verge of being raised to the rafters by the Grizzlies.
“It’s a blessing – it really is,” he said. “(I think back to) the things that we’ve been through – that organization and that city – and changing it all around.”
As much as he has tried to envision the fan reaction he’ll get inside FedEx Forum – the likely raucous standing ovation and moving video tribute on the Jumbotron – the now-Sacramento big man is not yet mentally prepared for it.
“It’s going to be really emotional,” he said, pausing for several seconds. “I might cry.”
Reflecting on the earlier stages of his career, the 36-year-old doesn’t shy away from the fact he’s made his share of mistakes. But during a time when he admittedly struggled with the transition to the NBA in his early 20s, Randolph believes he unjustly earned a reputation as a talented but troublemaking player.
“They didn’t know me as a person, but that’s how it is,” he said. “I take everything in stride, and I’m thankful it turned out this way. I’m blessed.”
When he arrived in Memphis in 2009, Randolph quickly changed misguided perceptions and rehabilitated his image through not only his indelible charitable contributions, but by unfailingly doing the dirty work on the hardwood.
The 6-foot-9 big man has compensated for his lack of pure athleticism with unequivocal determination and fortitude, helping lead the Grizzlies to seven consecutive Playoff appearances – including an unforgettable 2011 first-round upset of the Spurs.
No stranger to coming through in the clutch, Randolph was routinely at his best in series-clinchers, racking up 31 points and 11 rebounds against San Antonio in Game 7, as well as 28 and 14 in Game 5 of the 2013 conference semifinals vs the Thunder.
Throughout his career, the 2003-04 Most Improved Player has been an undeniably effective scorer and nightly double-double machine, racking up 17,966 points (12th-most among active players) and 9,924 rebounds (39th on the NBA’s all-time list) over 16-plus seasons.
According to basketball-reference.com, only 19 players have exceeded 18,000 career points and 10,000 rebounds, an exclusive club the Michigan State product is on pace to join in a matter of weeks.
Dave Joerger – Randolph’s head coach for three seasons in Memphis and his first in Sacramento – praises Randolph’s transformation and continued growth as both a player and person.
“You look at his career path, and how productive he’s been – which is just amazing – but also how much he’s matured as a human being,” said Joerger. “All the things that he gives to the Memphis community, and now being here in Sacramento, he’s trying to get his feet on the ground and do some of those things. He’s been fantastic for us. He’s like family to me. I can’t say enough good things about Zach.”
Carrying over his wealth of experience to The River City, Randolph has yet again come through in crunch-time situations. In a comeback win over the Thunder on Nov. 7, No. 50 scored all 18 of his points in the second half – relying on his patented jab step, rumbling hook shot and smooth mid-range jump shot to put away a close game. Two nights later, he notched 20 points in a one-point victory over Philadelphia, and submitted a 22-point, seven-rebound and seven-assist performance against the rival Lakers on Nov. 22.
Among Kings rotation players this season, Randolph leads the team in scoring (12.9 points per game) and Player Efficiency Rating (17.8), and is tied for second in rebounding (6.0). The dominant big man has grabbed 44.2 percent of contested rebounds when he’s been on the court – a higher mark than Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard, according to NBA.com.
Despite possessing an old-school, back-to-the-basket game built on positioning and immaculate footwork in the paint, as the NBA has evolved, so has the Kings forward’s range and shot selection.
Randolph attempted 16 total three-pointers – making one – over his first four seasons combined, compared to 94 attempts in 2016-17 alone. This year, 16.5 percent of his field goals have come from behind the arc, where he’s connected on a career-best 35.3 percent and has already tallied three games with two triples.
All the while, his bread-and-butter hook shot continues to be as reliable as ever (51.5 percent), and he’s been equally efficient in the post at 50.7 percent – the sixth-best mark in the League (min. five attempts per game), via NBA.com.
Providing a tried-and-true blueprint to success, the longtime veteran has provided leadership through his work ethic, as well as by harkening back to lessons he learned from past teammates – including Scottie Pippen and Dale Davis – and distinguished adversaries such as Hall-of-Famer Karl Malone.
“This team has a lot of young talent – guys who come from winning programs in college, who work hard and want (to improve),” said Randolph. “We just have to stick with it. I tell them, ‘We can compete with anybody on any night.’”
With a decorated résumé and experience in nearly every facet and situation, Randolph has routinely tutored the Kings' crop of up-and-coming stars, working on establishing a lasting legacy, on and off the court, in Sacramento.
“I’ve been through adversity; I’ve been through it (all), so I can handle anything,” he said. “I try to help them with everything – what to do and what not to do. I just lead by example.”