BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Zach Randolph is sitting in front of his locker, barefoot with a white towel draped over his lower body. His toenails are longer than he’d like them to be tonight.
“Aye, Fox!” he yells to point guard De’Aaron Fox. “Grab me some nail clippers!” The rookie obliges.
At this stage in his career, Randolph commands respect and gets it from all directions. Except from a stubborn nail on his big toe.
“Not sure if y’all wanna be here for this,” he laughs. “This thing might go flying in somebody’s eye.”
Had this story been about shrapnel in the form of toenail debris, it could have ended there. But this is about Randolph, whose fulfilling career continues to grind away midway through his 17th season in the NBA.
Randolph reached a career milestone in Sacramento’s narrow 104-99 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. He picked up his 10,000th rebound, making him just the 20th player in NBA history to achieve that stat with 18,000 career points. Randolph finally has a chance to reflect on what may be a Hall of Fame career, that a big kid from a little city in the Midwest could have never imagined.
“Coming out of Marion, Indiana, no sir,” he said, with a smile. “It’s a blessing. I’m thankful, man. I know my mom’s looking down on me and she’s smiling. So it’s a blessing all the way around.”
At 36 years old, Randolph shouldn’t be doing the things he does on the basketball court. His 21-point, eight-rebound outing with three assists against Brooklyn is a prime example.
There are three minutes and 45 second remaining in the second quarter. Randolph is standing on the sidelines, hands on his hips, waiting for a dead ball. His first-quarter damage had already been done: Seven points in nine minutes on 3-of-4 shooting.
Z-Bo’s coming back in to cap off the first half.
First it’s a step-back mid-range jump shot over Tyler Zeller. On the next possession, there’s no step-back needed: He looks Zeller in the face and drains a cool mid-range J at the top of key. A few seconds later, he goes coast to coast before finding Willie Cauley-Stein in deep post position. Had Bogdan Bogdanovic not missed an easy layup, Randolph would have accounted for eight straight Kings points.
That’s the Z-Bo effect both Vince Carter and Kings coach Dave Joerger have taken note of.
“He’s very calming,” Joerger said after the game. “When we don’t know what we’re doing, we’re running around all over the place, we know we can go to Zach. It’s very calming for us.”
Adds Carter: “For our team, for as young as we are, when we get erratic and all over the floor, we can rely on that for sure. We can put the ball in the post and we’ll get a good shot, mostly a bucket.”
While Randolph is excited about hitting his scoring milestone, points don’t matter to him as much. Nah. Z-Bo’s been known as a banger on the glass his entire life.
“I’ve always been a tremendous rebounder,” he says. “You can go back to high school, I always had a knack for the ball.
“So I really am proud about that. It’s a blessing. I thank God. I’m thankful.”
Still, Carter let it be known: Randolph can rebound, for sure. But it’s his “God-given ability to score” with a dominant, poster-dunk-like force that gives defenses fits.
“There’s no guessing,” V.C. says. “Other teams know it also, it’s just can you stop it? A lot of times you cant.
“It’s just amazing. You look at the guy who is not gonna drop-step and dunk on you, but the way he scores is like a drop-step and dunk on you. Because you can’t do anything about it. Plain and simple.”
In this stage of Z-Bo’s career, it’s not just about getting buckets. It’s about molding the next generation of NBA talent, specifically the young players in the Kings’ locker room.
Cauley-Stein remembers his emotions when he first learned Randolph had signed his two-year, $24 million contract in Sacramento. “I said, ‘OG?!’” he recalled.
He rattled off his former mentors: Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo. Then to get blessed with both Randolph and Carter? “It was over,” he said. “I knew my game was about to get tight.”
In his third season in Sacramento, Cauley-Stein relishes having a 16-year veteran and two-time All-Star to learn from.
“He’s just a professional man,” he said. “Him being in the league for so long and he’s still playing at that elite level, it’s great to be a prodigy and study him as a mentor and as an older brother. I’m just blessed that I’m able to play with him now instead of against him.”
For Cauley-Stein though, he’s also learned more about how to move off the court. Z-Bo taught him there’s no loyalty in the game of basketball, not at the pro level. Relationships mean more off the court than they do on, and expanding his platform will make both he and the people around him even better.
“You’ve gotta think five steps ahead, and that’s after you done playing this game and what you set yourself up for,” he said. “And he’s one of the best dudes at it.”
Carter sees it from a different perspective. Some young players might think they have an edge on Z-Bo because they’re more athletic. Few dare to think they have more talent. But that’s not the case. Not by a long shot.
“They’re not gonna out-compete him,” he said. “He loves the competition. And sometimes, not having the most athleticism doesn’t mean you can’t be a great player in this league because he’s ready to compete with anybody, any name. I don’t care if you’re taller than him, faster than him, whatever. You have a fight on your hands.”
Randolph’s role now is different from what it was with The Grit ’N’ Grind Grizzlies and the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s whatever they ask him to do, and that’s a mix of helping the young guys develop while shouldering the offense as the Kings’ stability beam down low.
And as he listened to the accolades after the game — 18,000 points and 10,000 rebounds — it wasn’t the 6’10, 260-pound big man standing before us. It was the little kid from Marion, Ind., who never thought in his wildest dreams this would happen.
“That’s what it’s all about. I played ball out there on the concrete,” he said. “That’s what we did was hoop. Coming out of Marion, we got a real basketball tradition. We got hoopers coming out of there. So, it was ingrained in me.
“That’s all I did was play ball. That was my dream: to be in the NBA and play ball.”