Zach Randolph waves at an adoring Memphis crowd. Photo: Warren Roseborough

Of course, I was expecting the standing ovation when Zach Randolph was introduced as the starting power forward for the Sacramento Kings. Everyone was. Same thing for the video montage — and the crowd roared when the Jumbotron showed Z-Bo’s takedown of Clippers forward Blake Griffin. Those moments of adoration were expected. And in case you missed them, I’m putting the video below.

To me, it’s the OTHER anecdotes I ran into that reminds me of how much this basketball star meant — and still means — to this city.

No Christmas Baskets this year

As usual, I got on the elevator and immediately struck up a conversation with a FedExForum employee. Of course, we talk about Z-Bo’s return.

“He’s really special,” she said. “He used to get Christmas baskets for all of the employees here at FedExForum.

“This past Christmas, no baskets,” she continued. “They don’t have any players doing that type of thing right now.”

As if the universe wanted me to underscore this point: Just now, as I was writing about that encounter, another FedExForum employee saw me and mentioned how Z-Bo gave arena employees turkeys for Christmas. Like, that literally happened while I was sitting here typing. It says something about you when people volunteer stories of your generosity.

“He has a really big heart,” the second employee said.

Award Winning

One of my colleagues, Mr. Ron Tillery of The Commercial Appeal, also happens to be a point person here in Memphis for the Pro Basketball Writers Association. Before Randolph signed with the Kings, he was asked to name the local recipient of the “Don Poier Media Assist Award” — ostensibly given to the athlete who works with the media the best. And the award goes to . . .

As one of the longer tenured journalists covering the team, Tillery wanted to make sure I was there as well. I know Ron had all kinds of nice words in his head that he was going to say, but clearly, he got a bit choked up. The moment was not lost on the big fella though. “This means a lot to me,” Randolph said.

Getting some shots up

And then he had to go get some shots up. Yeah, like that was going to happen with dozens of fans waiting to greet him . . .

Still 50, Still for the City

And then, there’s this: Earlier this year, after an MLGW computer glitch launched false rumors that Z-Bo was paying off people’s bills, he told me he was still planning to make his annual give to MIFA to help with utility bills. And he’s keeping his word.

Tomorrow (Saturday) Randolph will be at MIFA to present a 20,000 check to help those who need help with their light bills. And for those who want to give in Z-Bo’s name: the new Zach4Families fund. From a MIFA press release:

Randolph, player for the Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies player from 2009 to 2017, continues his Memphis charitable legacy with this donation and with the establishment of the Zach4Families fund.
 
His $20,000 contribution will help provide utility payment for 100 Memphis-area households, who have experienced a temporary crisis and need short-term assistance to remain stable.
 
Randolph and Sally Jones Heinz, MIFA president and CEO, will announce the Zach4Families Fund, which offers the opportunity for charitable giving in Zach’s honor to support MIFA’s Family Programs.  These programs provide basic services to prevent homelessness, stabilize families, and encourage independence.  Services include the hotline for homeless families, utility assistance and education, rent and mortgage assistance, emergency shelter placement, and rapid rehousing.
As Randolph basked in the love during the video tribute, an arena began chanting: “Z-Bo for Mayor! Z-Bo for Mayor!” Asked about it after the game, Randolph said:
“Man, you never know,” he chuckled. “I would need the city behind me.”
I don’t think you have to worry about that, big