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Number of the Day: Zach Randolph's #50

April 30, 2011


For most of his career, we have not known Zach Randolph. He has been the prodigal, making brief stops at Michigan State, Portland, and New York, displaying volatile rumblings of talent and substance, to change and manipulate the NBA's power structure, but, in most cases, every time he has appeared ready to change the landscape of how things are he has turned out to be more smoke than fire. But not any more; now, after nine years in the League, he appears ready to ssshhhhhh his critics with an array of post moves that would have even the great Tim Duncan tipping his hat in admiration. And that's the thing about the Grizzlies, it would be easy to only view Randolph and his cohort of young teammates as a group of adolescents playing with matches, burning down the old and cackling in the new, but that doesn't seem fair, that line of thought seems to view them in the same light that made so many of them cast offs and vagabonds in the first place. The Grizzlies need their story told.

Zach Randolph has always been viewed as a little too short, a little too inhibited by gravity, and a bit too focused on himself. Tony Allen was banished by Boston. Marc Gasol wasn't as good as his brother. Mike Conley was never going to develop into an NBA point guard. OJ Mayo and the injured Rudy Gay were always tweeners. Shane Battier was Shane Battier. Grievous Vasquez was tall for a point guard but too slow. These Grizzlies are all players with something to offer, but they are also flawed individuals. None of them will go down as all-time greats or best of their generation archetypes, but it seems to be these cracks in their armor that have actually melded them to each other, which means perhaps we shouldn't view them as pyros but as Smokey the Randolph and his friends, the Junior Park Rangers. Because more than anything, the maturation of this group as a basketball team appears to have erupted from the simple lesson that only you can prevent forest fires. In short, they are teaching a lesson in how self-preservation can lead to the mutual destruction of one's adversaries.




I have always connected the number fifty with David Robinson, his poise, his graciousness in victory and defeat, his stoic leadership and moral foundation--he has always been synonymous with doing the right thing the right way. The idea of San Antonio being the fountainhead of basketball ennui did not begin with Tim Duncan's bank shot, but with David Robinson's sense of duty. People outside of the city of San Antonio and the Spurs' basketball universe have always been mystified by how a fanbase could be so infatuated with a player who might believe that an untucked shirt signaled the apocalypse. But most of it had to do with geography. San Antonio is a city of loss. The Alamo is a structure of spilled blood. The population is made up of immigrants looking for a better life and the American Dream as well as members of the military whose sworn duty is to protect that Dream. In David Robinson, San Antonio found a migrant military man who carried the entire population's dreams on his back--no wonder it broke and no wonder he is revered.

While Zach Randolph is not David Robinson, on the court or off it, he is taking on the persona of a city, which in sports is a very cool thing to watch happen. His interviews, as does his game, speak to the blue collar mentality of a Memphis with a gritty, Southern bite to it, that can only be spoken by the jaws of an inferiority complex, a complex an entire region of the country has felt since Abe Lincoln was President, and Zach Randolph's shady past most definitely is the stuff that has always made for the best in blues music: the flood of pain, the tornado of loss, the twang of heartbreak, and hymn of triumph.

1 comments:

Langston said...

Zach Randolph may be flawed, but he does look a lot like Eddie from "Family Matters" and that has to count for something.

Side note: It was awfully fun to watch them turn the hoops World on it's end in this series and can only be a good thing for North Mississippi. And though it would have been at my Lakers expense, I am starting to think of how fun/weird a N.O./Memphis series could have been.

Side note #2: Apart from AAA baseball, I believe it's the first professional sports success the city has enjoyed since Reggie White was sacking people for the Showboats, which makes me happy for many of my UT friends and the city they love.

May 1, 2011 at 12:04 AM

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