In the short history of the Memphis Grizzlies, few players are as beloved as Zach Randolph is. A troubled journeyman at the time of his Tennessee entrance, Randolph helped turn the Grizzlies around and make them a contender. Despite a lack of rings, he remains one of their most beloved figures in retirement. With a new generation of stars led by Ja Morant, his impact on the team goes deeper than nostalgia.
Randolph began his career playing limited minutes off the bench for the Portland Trail Blazers. At the time, the Blazers were near the end of what became known as the Jail Blazers era, when off-the-court distractions often made headlines over anything the team did on it. After two years of waiting for his turn, however, Randolph got a chance to shine in 2003 when he became the Blazers’ full-time starter
Randolph led a new generation of Blazers as the team maintained some semblance of their greatness from the Jail Blazers era. After the team lost most of its talent, the team shipped Randolph to New York, where he only spent a year-and-a-half before getting traded, once again, to the Los Angeles Clippers he played in just half a season.
Randolph had occasional off-court issues and a reputation for not giving 110%. However, in Memphis, he was allowed to shine next to their young big man, Marc Gasol, and a young up-and-comer named Mike Conley Jr. That trio immediately elevated the Grizzlies out of the cellar of the league and near the top. Randolph and Gasol helped rebrand them as the grit and grind Grizzlies, a team known for hard work and punishing others.
The Grizzlies and their fans loved Randolph, and while he spent his final years in Sacramento, the Grizzlies will always be where he’s most beloved. With a promising young generation leading the Grizzlies, Randolph is trying to be there for the new generation.
Morant leads the new generation
Ja Morant was one of the most prized rookies in the 2019 draft. Had Zion Williamson not been in the same class, he may have been the first overall pick. Luckily for the Grizzlies, the young star landed in their lap, and his immediate impact on the team was noticeable to everyone involved. Already boasting a stellar young core, Morant provided the leadership that the Grizzlies needed. They became one of the season’s Cinderella teams thanks in large part to Morant’s show.
Morant averaged nearly 18 points to go along with seven assists and nearly four rebounds as a rookie. The Grizzlies struggled in the Bubble, but in the bulk of the season, they became a favorite to make the eighth seed inside. Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and the rest of the Grizzlies have a lot to look forward to, and Randolph is helping them behind the scenes.
Randolph’s legacy continues
In retirement, Randolph made it a point to go from his home in Los Angeles to Memphis as often as possible. Sticking around the young Grizzlies team, Randolph forged a friendship with Morant. He praised the team’s young guard in an interview with Bleacher Report.
“He’s just like me,” Randolph says. “Blue-collar player. Honest. Humble. Heart like a giant. He gives back. The people of Memphis see that Ja is just like them, too: a hard worker, where nothing’s been given to him… This city is the best place for him. For his personality.”
Randolph now sees himself as a mentor for a future generation of players in a city that he still loves. Still just 20 years old, Morant has a long way to go. By getting a little toughness from Randolph and learning from the heart of the team’s best era, the sky is the limit for Ja Morant. With Randolph, however, that sky could get a little higher.