Resilience, determination, staying power
by Settle Monroe
photographs by Justin Cook
When 6-foot-10-inch, 240-pound Shavlik Randolph lumbers into a Raleigh Starbucks, all eyes in the cafe look up. And up. And up. Standing customers step aside to make room for him, and those in line turn around as if to ask permission to go before him. The barista can’t help but stare with a dropped jaw as he leans over the counter to place his order.
But as soon as the 10-year NBA veteran nods in a friend’s direction, flashes his wide, schoolboy grin and says with a familiar southern spin, “I’ll have what she’s having,” we all exhale. We quickly forget about all the eyes on him, and wonder if he ever noticed them at all.
Shavlik, or Shav as he is often called, is used to having eyes fixed on him. Anyone in Raleigh who followed high school basketball in the early 2000s remembers Randolph. His stats and stories from Broughton High School constantly filled the sports section of the newspaper. His ability to drain a three-point shot on one play and drive to the basket for a power-dunk on the next kept Broughton’s Holliday Gymnasium packed with excited sports fans from across the state and eager college coaches from across the country. Today, as a 31-year-old seasoned professional, it is his resilience, determination, and staying power in an unforgiving sport that define his legacy.
To folks who know Shav, it wasn’t ever his game-time accomplishments that most impressed them. It was his work off the court, his Marine-like drive during workouts and practices that set him apart. Shavlik recalls jumping rope in his driveway with weights on his ankles after practice before returning to the gym to get in more shots before bed. “His workouts are legendary,” says longtime friend and former teammate William Kane. “I’ve never met anyone who had such a vision for what he wanted and then took the steps necessary to accomplish that vision.”
Shavlik’s mother, Kim Randolph, echoes Kane. “What was unique about Shavlik is that he loved to practice. He enjoyed the thrill of getting better.” Kim Randolph tells of Shavlik returning to the Broughton gym after dinner, where the night custodian would leave the light on for him. On many occasions, the custodian would stand in front of Shav, holding up a broom to play defense as Shavlik shot over the broom. Randolph remembers, “From the time he was in the second grade, Shavlik said that he was going to play in the NBA and that he wanted to be a professional basketball player.”
That work ethic and intense drive – coupled with his monstrous frame and stellar bloodline (his grandfather, Ronnie Shavlik, was an All-American at N.C. State in the 1950s) – led Shav to break scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots records at Broughton, even surpassing “Pistol” Pete Maravich’s single-game scoring record by scoring 50 points in a game. That determination and focus is also what drove him to play at Duke University from 2002-2005. And it is what ultimately carried him to achieve his childhood dream of playing in the NBA, when in 2005 he signed his first professional contract with the Philadelphia 76ers.
While the start of his basketball career was highly publicized and followed, much of Randolph’s last ten years of play has slid beneath the radar. Currently headed to China to play for the Liaoning Flying Leopards, Shavlik has bounced around from team to team in the NBA, the course of a true journeyman. He has played for five different NBA teams – the Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trailblazers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, and Boston Celtics. He has signed contracts ranging from 10 days to two years, and has often had to pick up and move at a moment’s notice for a last-minute trade. Enticing contracts and the promise of on-court action have lured Shavlik to China and Puerto Rico.
As Shavlik describes his journey over the past decade, his relentless determination shines through. In fact, it is actually this resolve that Shavlik cites as his highest accomplishment. “I have had so many bumps in the road. But I have been able to weather them well and never lose sight of who I am and who I want to be.” Shavlik credits his faith, his focus, and his genuine love of the game as the forces behind his ability to keep working to meet his goal. It is the same goal he has had since he was an eight-year-old boy: to play professional basketball.
But in the world of professional sports, there are no guarantees. Shavlik knows this all too well. While playing for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2006, with only one season of professional play under his belt, Shavlik suffered one of the worst injuries his coach, Maurice Cheeks, had ever witnessed. Shav, who had started the previous six games for the team, came down on a teammate’s foot during practice and broke his ankle. It was a scene that Shavlik will not soon forget. “I knew it was bad,” he recalls. “Everyone in the gym dispersed. Some were even crying.” But before Shavlik left the gym on a stretcher that afternoon, he turned around to face his team and flashed a big “thumbs up.”
Unfortunately, this ankle break would not be the last of his injuries. Recovery and rehabilitation have been themes of Shavlik’s decade as a paid athlete. Today, Shavlik is optimistic and proud of how he has handled the setbacks. “I have thrown myself into this game, undergone surgeries and instability to keep playing. I have never had a guarantee that all this work and rehab will pay off. But I am proud that I have and will continue to give it my all.”
While his resolve has remained constant, he has made necessary adjustments to his workouts and practice routines over the years. Now one of the more experienced players in the league, Shavlik has become an expert on strengthening and protecting his body and working smarter off the court. This is a sign of maturity, yes. It is a sign of a man who knows who he is. It is also a sign of a man who knows what he needs to do to keep playing basketball.
As an NBA journeyman, he has grown comfortable with stepping into a new situation with little to no advance notice. For Shavlik, a basketball court is a basketball court. And a chance to play is a chance to play. Besides, as a veteran player, he knows most of the players in the league. Many of them have become role models and close friends.
Admittedly, when he showed up for his first practice with the Boston Celtics in 2013, fresh off the plane after a stellar season in China, it was a bit nerve-wracking. Celtics small forward and ten-time All-Star Paul Pierce looked at Shavlik as he walked onto the court and mumbled, “Who is this?” Coach Doc Rivers immediately responded, “This is Randolph. The one who played at Duke.” With a short nod and a “cool” from Pierce, Shavlik was quickly a part of the team. This is the way the business works. “They get you in the system, and it’s off to the races,” Shavlik describes. Shavlik says that he and Pierce are still “cool” to this day.
Shavlik does not hesitate when asked about the hardest part of all of the travel required of him. “Oh, that’s easy. I hate to fly.” He avoids it at all costs. In fact, as he describes his panic during a plane’s takeoff, landing, and even the slightest amount of turbulence, visible sweat beads form around his brow. “Let’s change the subject,” Shavlik jokes in a kidding-but-no-seriously kind of way.
Once safely grounded, Shavlik enjoys exploring new cities, countries, and cultures. He lists Hong Kong and Shanghai as two of the most impressive places he has visited due to their metropolitan vibes and high-tech amenities. “I never would have known how much I love to travel and experience new people and places if basketball had not forced me to do it. This is a part of who I am now.”
But there is one necessity that doesn’t fit in Shavlik’s suitcase (and no, it is not a pair of his size 18 shoes). It is his piano. Shavlik, an avid music lover and longtime Michael Jackson fan, can tickle the ivories as quickly as he can drive past a power forward. His mother reports that Shav has played the piano in every hotel lobby he has visited. Remarkably, he is self-taught and plays completely by ear.
But Shavlik has had many teachers in his life. He names Michael Jordan as his ultimate basketball hero. Playing with Jordan in 2001 at a basketball camp in Santa Barbara for national top players remains one of the highlights of his life. Younger players in the NBA practically sit at Shav’s feet to hear stories of Jordan in his prime.
Shavlik also cites coach Mike Hollis, founder and president of NetWorks Basketball, as a constant inspiration to him both on and off the court. Hollis, who has coached thousands of athletes, many of whom have gone on to play in college and professionally, shares the same respect for Shav. “Today, Shavlik is a better, more well-rounded basketball player. He has learned his lessons well. Shavlik has always had a great skill set. And now he has the experience to go with it.” It’s Shavlik’s character that sets him apart, he says, his off-court convictions and his unending determination that leave the biggest mark. “Shavlik has used every adversity as an opportunity. He looks at the situation and asks, ‘How can I grow from this? What can I do to move forward?’ He has pursued what God has given him to do. And he has done it faithfully.”
Today, Shavlik plans to continue to do what he has always done: play basketball. While his pursuit has included his fair share of twists and setbacks, surprises and uncertainties, to Shavlik, each is a step in his journey. The most recent step will take him back to China where he recently signed the Liaoning Flying Leopards contract. Beyond that, Shavlik is not sure where his journey will take him. But one thing is certain, for a man who has dedicated his life to playing this game, the journey will lead him home. And for Shavlik, home is anywhere he finds himself between the rectangular lines on a wooden floor and a round, leather ball in his hands.