Z-Bo talks Animal Planet, dogs and evil cats

Zach Randolph, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound power forward for the Memphis Grizzlies, cries sometimes.

And sometimes, when he’s walking the streets of Memphis and a cat just so happens to cross his path, Mr. Randolph, one of the baddest dudes in the NBA, darn near runs for his life.

But we’ll get to all of that in bit.

In the Jan. 12 episode of the Animal Planet reality series “Pit Bulls and Parolees,” the Grizzlies' All-Star dishes an unlikely assist to star Tia Torres as the two do-gooders set out to save a pit bull that had been trapped for several days in a Memphis drainpipe.

(For an exclusive clip from the episode, check out the video above, courtesy of Animal Planet.)

Going in, Torres, who runs New Orleans-based Villalobos Rescue Center, the nation’s largest pit bull rescue outfit, didn’t know Z-Bo from Bieber. That, turns out, is just the way Randolph likes it.

The big-hearted big man gave Blitz a ring to talk about his soft spot for canines, his soul-crushing fear of cats, throwing his weight around at Benihana and his New Year’s resolutions.

We’ve only met on a few occasions, Zach, but I feel like I have to be honest with you.

Oh, OK, what’s up?

Here goes: The episode made me shed a tear.

[Laughs.] Well, I haven’t seen it yet. But I might, too.

Seriously? You’re a crier?

Yeah, a little bit.

I’ll keep that between us.

It was emotional, man! I got a passion for these animals. I really do.

This trapped pit bull was big news in Memphis. Are you a dog lover or just a good samaritan looking to help out?

I’m a dog lover -- lover. I’m a spokesperson for the Memphis Humane Society. I like getting involved with the fighting dogs. This ain’t no overnight thing, it’s how I’ve always been. Now I got two Russian terriers. And I got two more in Russia that are four weeks old -- not old enough to come out here yet. The two with me now, I got them from a breeder in Georgia and one in Wisconsin. They’re show dogs. I got a handler who shows them. They’re at a Florida show right now. When they’re not on the road, they’re with me. In the offseason, I’ll go to shows with them. It’s a great thing, man.

When the public thinks about dogs and athletes, they don’t usually think good thoughts.

It’s not fair. One athlete made a mistake. That doesn’t mean the rest of us are like that. Of course, where I grew up, everybody was doing that [dog fighting], but that doesn’t mean I’ll grow up and do the same thing.

You do travel a lot. Can a professional athlete be a responsible dog owner, given the demands of your job?

Damn right! Plus, I got a family -- when I’m not there, my little girl takes care of the dogs. She loves them, too. She treats them like I treat them.

In the episode, you make a very generous donation of $10,000 to Tia’s organization. In return, they named the dog Z-Bo. Fair trade?

[Laughs.] Oh, yeah! Little Z-Bo, man, he’s doing great. I got a picture of him in my locker. He’s walking better now, on the leash. He’s doing great.

That’s awesome. You do have one of the coolest nicknames in sports. Do you get that a lot, people naming things after you?

Yo, people name so much stuff after me! It’s crazy. I’m talking about everything from Z-Bo dogs to Z-Bo snakes to teddy bears to kids -- all kinds of stuff. But it’s a good thing, man. I feel special. [Laughs.]

Like you, I’m a dog lover. On a possibly related note, I feel, in my heart of hearts, that cats are evil. Feel me?

Naw, you’re right: You can’t be both a dog lover and a cat lover. I’ve got a crazy phobia about cats. For some reason, I’m always thinking they’re going to scratch me. If a cat walks up, I’m going, “Oh no, this dude about to scratch me -- I know it!” Cats scare the hell out of me. I love animals, but I’m no cat lover. Guys usually aren’t.

Interesting. Then maybe you can help me out. My buddy, Mike Garrett, an otherwise normal, single, young man, is very seriously considering buying a cat. He won’t listen to me, so maybe he’ll listen to Z-Bo. Mike’s crazy, right?

Oh, man, tell him to buy a dog! [Laughs.] Yo, I’m serious, tell your friend -- tell him right now: You don’t need no cat, Mike. Buy a dog.

Your appearance in this episode is out of the ordinary for you. You might be the most under-the-radar NBA star. Is that by design?

You know, I take it as it comes. I’m not a flashy guy. I’m real -- 100 percent honest and real. I’m just me. I don’t try to do nothing for the spotlight. I’m just gonna be me.

Well, I’m sure you don’t mind the spotlight once in a while. What’s the most star-like thing you’ve done recently?

OK, yeah, there was one thing. [Laughs.] I was at Benihana the other day in Memphis, and it was super-crowded. And, OK, I pulled my Z-Bo card and they took care of me. [Laughs.] I skipped the line a little bit.

Last thing, because it’s that time of year: Have you given much thought to a New Year’s resolution?

You know, not yet. I’m just trying to stay positive, do what’s right, and continue to walk the straight and narrow.

Well, maybe I can help with your goals for the new year. First, how about one resolution for your team, the Grizzlies? Maybe one goal, or one habit that you’d like to see broken?

Oh, that’s a good question. Well, I’d like to see us be more consistent with our 3-point shooting and knock down our shots from the perimeter on a consistent basis.

Good one. Now, how about one resolution for you, individually, on the court? What do you hope to accomplish in 2013?

I’d like to lead the league in rebounding. I want that title.

Finally, one resolution for you, away from the court?

I don’t know, man. I got this sweet tooth. I like candy. I told myself I’d try to slow down on that. Oh, and I do bite my nails a lot.

That’s gross.

Yeah, I’m working on it.