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Z ach Randolph isn't worried about whether his year-old son, Zachariah, retraces his sizable basketball footsteps. Yes, he counsels him on the game. But most of their conversations are about life's choices and consequences. Be positive, Randolph tells him. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Make smart decisions. Maybe if I would have had a daddy saying, 'Zach, don't do this' or 'Get in the house' or 'Where's your report card? Randolph trails off, but his point is clear. Picture him at the same impressionable age as his son — already a strong basketball player, just before he became one of the few freshmen ever summoned to Marion High School's varsity team.
In basketball-crazed Indiana, it was a distinction so uncommon that "I can probably count them on one hand," said Jim Brunner, in his 42nd year as the voice of the Marion Giants. Randolph's mother, Mae Randolph, raised her four children without a male influence. She taught her oldest son to believe in loyalty and love.
They didn't have much else. Their family was destitute, on welfare much of his childhood. Randolph wore the same pair of jeans to school day after day, week after week. Kids called him "crusty. He was caught, and spent 30 days in juvenile detention. This was the start of a familiar pattern.
Years passed, infractions piled up, but Randolph's basketball talent blossomed. Randolph introduced himself to his high school coach, Moe Smedley, with the declaration that he would one day play in the NBA. He developed a knack for doing the dirty work, muscling, rebounding, and pounding bigger guys down low.
He flashed that smile of his, a big cheek-to-cheek grin. But authorities placed a year-old Randolph under house arrest for battery. He was placed in juvenile detention two years later for receiving stolen guns. In , he was arrested for underage drinking less than a year after being drafted into the NBA by Portland. The problems trailed him there, where Randolph earned fame and infamy as a member of the "Jail Blazers," a much-reviled team that tainted professional basketball in Portland.
Now 31, Randolph has become the face of the Memphis Grizzlies, a franchise that limped badly until its improbable upset of no. He is unquestionably a beloved figure both in Memphis and in Marion, about 65 miles north of Indianapolis up I He's fit in so naturally in Memphis that many mistakenly believe Randolph actually hails from the city. He tutors younger teammates like Tony Wroten and Josh Selby, something that would have seemed far-fetched — to say the least — after Randolph's struggles transitioning into the league.
I've been on the highest of highs and lowest of lows and I've got a strong will. Some people have never been through nothing, and when a situation happens they crumble. But I've been there. And I'm the same person. L ong before Randolph walked into that department store — before the Civil War, in fact — Marion was a safe haven for blacks in the North.
The black population was segregated from the white population, but a quasi-harmony existed and Marion's black residents even developed a small farming community. That symbiosis shattered in the s, when the Ku Klux Klan infiltrated the area. They were responsible for one of the last confirmed lynchings in the United States: In , Thomas Shipp, Abram Smith, and James Cameron were held on charges of robbing Claude Deeter, killing him, and raping Deeter's girlfriend. A mob formed outside the county jail that detained the trio, eventually beating them and dragging them from their cells.
They hanged Shipp and Smith, but Cameron was sentenced as an accessory and lived a long life, even founding America's Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee. The lynching is documented in one of the most horrifying images of our country's past. During her research, Carr discovered her grandfather was a Klan member. Good white people and good black people. But it's that thing that's always there. It's like poison bubbling underneath the grass. The lynching is the first topic Randolph discusses when asked about Marion — not that it's where he honed his skills, not that it's where he helped Mae build her dream home.
He remembers standing outside an apartment building as a teenager when a cop cruised past him in a car. The cop reversed course, Randolph says, and without provocation expressed his disdain for Randolph, telling him he'd never amount to anything before driving off. M itch Sturm approached a group of young teenagers and offered them pointers after a midday pickup game in the mid-'90s.
The kids admitted that they needed a coach. Sturm offered his phone . If they called back, it could be fun. If not, oh well. Zach Randolph was among that group of kids. They'd pile 10 deep into Sturm's SUV and drive to games together. Randolph rarely gets enough credit for his game, his positioning, his craftiness in the post. It's so natural, it almost seems innate. And a lot of it is. But that belies the hours he spent honing that immaculate footwork, learning to glide almost like a ballroom dancer. It wasn't all grace and power. His football career ended after two practices, when an offensive lineman pancaked him to the ground.
Longtime friend Andrew Morrell remembers his team teasing Randolph because, despite being their tallest player, he could barely touch the rim. One time when an opponent was shooting free throws, Randolph retreated to the basket on the other end, leaped up, briefly grabbed iron and crashed to the floor. Everyone glanced over to see a sheepish Randolph crumpled in a pile. Another time, the Untouchables were cruising to a blowout win and Sturm finally allowed Randolph to play point guard — something Randolph had begged him to do.
Randolph — who shot up about five inches in the summer between eighth grade and his freshman year of high school — eventually ed Pat Mullin's Indianapolis-based AAU team. And I think some people didn't have that feeling in Marion. Sturm sat in amazement as he watched him down popcorn, candy, and hotdogs and then dominate a game. Smedley still remembers seeing Randolph for the first time, then asking around and hearing the same things. He doesn't work hard. McPherson taught Randolph the four building blocks of the post — the up-and-under, the crossover, and a pivot that allows players to reverse momentum or continue forward.
McPherson also implored Randolph to be careful about his non-basketball choices, that his "friends" were a reflection of himself. That's who he lived with. Marion was the runner-up for the state championship in Randolph's sophomore year, then had their attempt to return to the final derailed when the school suspended Randolph after he was caught in possession of stolen guns.
His idea was he was going to sell these and give some money to his mom. The police show up at his doorstep, and to show you how he didn't think he did anything wrong, the police say, 'Hey, Zach, we understand you are in possession of some stolen merchandise. What do you have to say? He says, 'I'm sorry. Randolph missed the rest of his junior season, watching games in street clothes and kicking himself for what could have been. Smedley remembers getting criticized from opposite sides, with some Marion residents thinking Randolph shouldn't have been allowed on the bench and others believing he never should have been dismissed.
Jeffries earned the state's Mr. But I told my mom I would go to college for a year. That was the best thing that I did. Richardson recalls walking on eggshells before Randolph's arrival. That changed once Randolph "came in cracking jokes," said Richardson, now a member of the 76ers. Both eventually declared for the draft — Richardson went fifth to Golden State and Randolph fell to Portland at 19 mainly because he'd played so little in college, and some teams were wary of a potential weight problem.
He went to class, did all of his stuff. That's what I told teams. You've just got to get him around good people. The Blazers were one year removed from a devastating defeat in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, when Kobe and Shaq's Lakers erased a point fourth-quarter deficit to advance and eventually win the first of their three titles. Randolph showed up right as the Blazers began to value talent over chemistry in search of the elusive championship pieces: They traded Jermaine O'Neal and Steve Smith, acquired Shawn Kemp, awarded Ruben Patterson a lavish contract, and built their team around Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire and their long-term contracts.
Before the draft, then—general manager Bob Whitsitt dispatched his assistant, Mark Warkentien, to Marion to gather as much intelligence as possible from Randolph, his family, and his teachers and decide if Randolph's issues were self-contained or if he was simply a product of his environment. There's no one way to get that answer. It's never as crystal clear as you want it to be. Whitsitt believed they could develop Randolph the same way they had developed O'Neal right out of high school. They knew how to take baby steps developing, well, a baby.
That's what the stewardess on the team's charter flight always called him, anyway. Sometimes, he even seemed younger than that — Randolph once asked year veteran Steve Kerr when the team would be off for Christmas break. He also was repeatedly fined for not meeting his rookie weight requirement. He would just score on those guys at will on certain days when things were going well.
You could just see the potential even at that raw state that he was in. Randolph had made it to the NBA, and that meant his friends had made it, too. He relocated a few of them to Portland, where they showed up in the hallways after home games wearing extravagant necklaces featuring the acronym "H. Really, they were walking baggage — reminders of Zach's hometown and every potential pitfall still lurking out there. Randolph didn't help matters by embracing their lifestyle. Even at the tail end of his six-year stint in Portland, Randolph's friends were still regarded with suspicion.
Oregonian columnist John Canzano claimed in , "Just before [Randolph] was traded to the Knicks, someone on the gang enforcement team at Portland Police Department told me to pick up the MTV Cribs episode that featured Zach Randolph because the police had a copy, and noticed some disturbing details about the unsavory people who hung around Randolph.
He wanted to be seen that way. Darnell Valentine spent four-plus years with the Blazers in the s and later became their director of player programs, making him almost overqualified to counsel young Z-Bo. He remembers Randolph frustrated by a city that, culturally, was "a little bit of a challenge for Zach. In Portland, when you're a 6'9" guy walking around, it's hard to hide. During that period when Zach was with Portland, it was kind of like Clint Eastwood: the good, the bad, and the ugly.Randolph sex and hung friend
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The Two Lives of Zach Randolph