MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Warriors coach Steve Kerr recalled sitting on the plane with one-time Portland teammate Zach Randolph when the rookie had a question.
“How much time do we get off for Christmas?” Kerr said the Grizzlies forward once asked. “He didn’t know. He was just the sweetest, nicest kid. He had no clue. He was so talented, and he was a joy to play with as you see now.
“What makes me really happy is just to see what he’s done in his career and the maturity. The fact that he’s gone from this kid who knew nothing about the league to being a leader not only on his team, but somebody who’s really important in the community here in Memphis, he’s really matured and grown into really a good man and a hell of a player.”
Kerr in 2012 used the Christmas anecdote while writing in Grantland to make the case for the NBA raising its age limit to 20. Randolph was 20 in his rookie season, and Kerr wrote that he was “visibly shocked and saddened” after learning the schedule didn’t include a break to go home for Christmas.
“He was literally a baby,” Kerr said Saturday. “He was just a kid. He had no idea what the NBA was about.
“Zach’s questions were fantastic.”
His career was marred by run-ins with the law, but Randolph emerged in Memphis as one of the Grizzlies’ top players as a rugged, versatile presence. He fondly recalled how Kerr, then playing in his 14th NBA season, tried to help the maturity process.
“I used to sit next to Steve on the plane and ask him all kind of questions about him and (Michael) Jordan,” Randolph said.
“Steve was always great, a great person, man. He was just a great leader and mentor type of guy even when I was a rookie…I was amazed, you know? Steve Kerr, Scottie Pippen, like I’m on a team with these guys?”