Grizzlies legend Zach Randolph defined grit-and-grind

Published December 12, 2021, 6:00 PMJon Carlos Rodriguez

Zach Randolph, who just had his jersey retired by the Memphis Grizzlies, was one of the pivotal players from the franchise's grit-and-grind era.

If there’s one moment that could best introduce Zach Randolph to a non-believer, it’s this play:

Randolph and Blake Griffin, both 250-pound behemoths, grappled under the rim as they fought for a rebound. Randolph was in a better position and tried to go for it. He tried to reach out for the loose ball with his left hand, his dominant hand, while his right hand thwarted Griffin.

The momentum pushed Randolph backwards, almost into a failed flip, and it sent him crashing to the floor with a menacing thud. It was as if Randolph was on the receiving end of an invisible chokeslam. The vicious fall pinned Randolph on the floor, which could also be wincing in pain with him at that point. Randolph didn’t move. His white headband dislodged in surrender. Three seconds passed, there was still no movement.

Then, Randolph primed himself up, and as if to shock his body to life, he did three pushups. He got up and snatched his headband from the floor, then he went back to work.

This happened in the 2012 playoffs, in a series that Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies eventually lost against the Los Angeles Clippers. The pain from Randolph’s fall was tolerable, but the loss stung. 

Before he was the man in the paint for the Grizzlies, Randolph was in a Clippers jersey, which didn’t last long. After only playing 39 games, he was pushed out of Hollywood and shipped to the blue-collar city of Memphis. The Clippers had to make room for Griffin, the Randolph anti-thesis.

Whereas Randolph was burly and highly-skilled in bully ball, Griffin was flamboyant and super athletic. Griffin lived largely in plays in the sky; Randolph did the dirty work close to the ground. This made their matchups as interesting as a pay-per-view fight.

The Grizzlies and the Clippers met again in the playoffs a year later, and that’s when Randolph got his revenge. With a swollen ankle and the proverbial taste of blood still in his mouth from the previous playoffs, Randolph sank pull-up jumpers and spinning hooks. He violently barged into the Clippers defense and hit floaters with such smoothness.

The end of that series for Randolph couldn’t have been more perfect. With Game 6 and the series virtually wrapped up, Randolph was ejected for yapping. His exit to the tunnel was met with ovation and cheers. He was—and still is—loved in Memphis.

Randolph’s value to the franchise went beyond the numbers. The nickname “First Name 20, Last Name 10” went hard, but it can’t possibly communicate his contributions to his team and the community. His two-time All-Star nod while in Memphis was more than well-deserved, but he deserved more.

The culture, mindset, and heart of what the Grizzlies of that era fought for all started with Randolph. Grit is defined as courage, resolve, and strength of character, while grind means hard, dull work. You only need to watch Zach Randolph play to understand the true meaning of grit and grind.

Randolph, in his playing minutes, was always ground-and-pound. He believed in the beauty of the banging, the hard work, and the mud every time he was on the floor. 

The Memphis Grizzlies honored Randolph by hoisting his jersey up to the rafters, where it is untouchable. This was the first time in franchise history that the Grizzlies retired a jersey. Now, everyone gets to see Randolph’s No. 50 up there, no longer in the mud. Everyone gets to become a believer.