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HANGIN' WITH THE GRIZZ
Lee Jenkins
May 20, 2013
FOR SEVEN DAYS SI WENT BEHIND THE SCENES WITH MEMPHIS AS THE WESTERN CONFERENCE CONTENDERS IMPROVISED A GAME PLAN FOR THE THUNDER, BOUNCED BACK FROM A GRUELING DEFEAT—AND GOT THEIR HAIR CUT JUST RIGHT
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May 20, 2013

Hangin' With The Grizz

FOR SEVEN DAYS SI WENT BEHIND THE SCENES WITH MEMPHIS AS THE WESTERN CONFERENCE CONTENDERS IMPROVISED A GAME PLAN FOR THE THUNDER, BOUNCED BACK FROM A GRUELING DEFEAT—AND GOT THEIR HAIR CUT JUST RIGHT

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There are two schools of thought on how to deal with a prolific scorer: Suffocate him and dare everybody else to shoot, or let him fire and eliminate the others. Joerger, the architect of the NBA's stingiest defense, refused to surrender anything. The Grizzlies aren't fast enough to deny Durant full-court, as the Rockets did in round 1, but Joerger felt it was time to pick him up farther behind the three-point line. At practice on Thursday he took a cue from football coaches everywhere and threw a red jersey on Donte Greene, a nimble 6'11" forward. "This is Kevin Durant!" Joerger announced.

Greene, who signed with Memphis less than a month ago and has yet to play in a game, suddenly attracted more attention than ever. When the scout team scored, Joerger hollered, "Find Durant! Find Durant! He's got to see a crowd!" Greene dribbled downcourt and was smothered behind the arc, falling down and losing the ball. "KD came at us with too much speed," Joerger told the players. "We've got to get up on him." The Grizzlies then ran five-man weaves—scoring 126 baskets in five minutes—and Allen made a wild double-pump layup even though there was no defender in sight. "That's what we don't need," Hollins said. "Just lay it in."

"What?" Allen replied. "I'm drawing a foul."

Less than five hours after practice Pondexter was back on the practice court at FedExForum, accompanied by his four-month-old husky, Buckets. He bought the dog after a nasty breakup and chose the breed because he went to college at Washington. When the Grizzlies' p.r. staff asked Pondexter to represent the team at the upcoming World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Memphis, they tried to entice him with the prospect of a future girlfriend. "Yeah, sure," Pondexter said. "They'll all be like, 'There's the guy who missed the free throw!' " He eventually relented, agreeing to his 38th community appearance of the season, which the Grizzlies believe to be some kind of record.

Pondexter's father, Roscoe, started the evening workout by grabbing a ball and walking to the free throw line. "You have to feel the seams," instructed Roscoe, who played forward at Long Beach State. Roscoe sank the first free throw. "O.K., now make two more," his son said. "And add 20,000 people—that's all." Roscoe missed the second. Pondexter snatched the ball from his dad and buried approximately 350 of the next 400 shots, pausing only to clean up after Buckets, who had relieved himself by the baseline.

On the road the Grizzlies are basketball players. At home they are husbands, fathers and dog owners. On a rainy Friday morning Allen sat in the kitchen of his two-story brick house in East Memphis, eating eggs, grits and sausage at the bar with his 13-year-old daughter, Antekia, and his fiancée, Desiree Rodriguez. "When I'm away, I'm Tony," Allen said. "When I'm here, I'm Anthony." He drove Antekia—Kiki for short—to school at the Bowie Reading and Learning Center, gushing about her last report card, all A's with a stray C. Kiki's birthday is next week, and Allen wondered if it's acceptable to throw a Sweet 14 party.

Kiki plays basketball, but she says her left hand needs work, and her dad never lets her score. Naturally she thrives on defense. When father and daughter played one-on-one at the Grizzlies facility over the All-Star break, she stripped him at half-court, still a sensitive subject. "Keep that on the down low," Allen whispered.

At the end of Friday's practice, Memphis walked through its plays, focusing on pick-and-rolls. Thunder big men showed hard against Conley in the first two games and Grizzlies coaches wanted him to take advantage, either by throwing a quick pocket pass or stringing out the double team long enough for the screener to pop loose. After three empty days, Game 3 was upon them, and players clapped as they gathered at center court. "Together!" they yelled on a count of three, and Randolph bolted to South Main Street for his final act of preparation.

Chris Rhodes has been cutting Randolph's hair for the past 10 years, ever since Randolph saw his work in a video featuring Memphis-based rapper Yo Gotti. When Randolph played for the Blazers, Clippers and Knicks, Rhodes flew to him once a week. Then Randolph was traded in 2009 to Memphis, home of Christyles, the barbershop Rhodes co-owns in the arts district with former NBA star Penny Hardaway. Randolph swings by every Friday or Saturday. He also stops in before certain nationally televised games. He'll even summon Rhodes to his house after arduous road trips, as late as 3 a.m. Randolph doesn't watch much film, but he does pay close attention to frizz. "He'll tell me, 'I don't feel right, I need to get cleaned up,' " Rhodes says. "It's mental for him. You look better, you play better."

Randolph ducked in the door, and five barbers on duty put down their razors. "Z-Bo!" they shouted, and he bear-hugged them all. At Christyles, eight red leather chairs swivel along the wall, and Randolph plopped down in the first one. He slipped a black gown over his cherubic face and sat silently as Rhodes shaved his head with one-guard clippers, then lined him up with a straight-edge razor. He seemed to be meditating. "This is my time to space out," Randolph said, "and listen to everybody else." Memphis senior forward D.J. Stephens was talking about his upcoming graduation ceremony. Grizzlies forward Austin Daye was bragging about his recent performance in an NBA 2K13 video game. A barber, Donald Lockett, claimed to have scored 116 points in 40 seconds on the Christyles pop-a-shot machine, more than Hardaway and Randolph. Z-Bo didn't bother to protest. He lifted his chin, slathered in shaving cream, and let Rhodes trim his whiskers.

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