The second brother who would eventually make his way to Memphis—and instigate the Time of the  Crushing—first had to do some waiting of his own.

He had been born to a powerful race of Jotuns, all of whom had been fathered by a wandering wizard named Pippen. This wizard spoke to them in the ancient tongue of the Zen Master, but they did not always listen. And perhaps some of them did not understand.

Shawn Kemp gnawed voraciously on boulders as if they were doughnuts, always chomping with his mouth open. Ruben Patterson hated women. Bonzi Wells couldn’t stop laughing, while Damon Stoudemire lit the woods on fire. And Rasheed Wallace, the mightiest of the giant children, hurled rocks at everyone, taking great pleasure at how their sensitive skins would bruise at his pointing and his mocking. No one learned the Way of the Zen, and the wizard’s spine curved forward from the frustrating weight of it all. Meanwhile, Z-Bo watched and waited, dodging mighty Sheed’s glare in the shadows of the Rose Garden.

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In these shadows, in the darkest caverns of the world’s basketball heart, Z-Bo came upon the roots of a mighty tree. To gain greater power, he hanged himself on the Tree of Walton. The Northwest Wind scarred his body and the tree’s, as if the two were one and the same. Z-Bo sacrificed himself to Z-Bo. For seven years of nights and seven years of days, he hung in angry silence, staring at the giants below him. As the tree grew farther from the ground, those below him grew smaller in stature. Giants became goblins, and goblins became rats.

When Z-Bo came down from the Walton Tree, he was the Thunder. He was stronger than all his Jotun brothers combined, so with a hammer fashioned from the Walton Branch of his hanging, he subdued the Northwest’s rodent infestation. After he captured all the rat kings, he scooped them up in his hands and squeezed them into his head and nostrils. Their powers became his powers; their memories became his memories. When he looked angry, which was often, it was because of the rats running round inside his skull. Then, with no reason to stay, for Pippen and the Way of the Zen had perished long ago, Z-Bo wandered eastward over the Big Country’s vastness. He wandered towards the rising sun.

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When he reached the ruins of the ancient Knickerbockers, Z-Bo wrote his name in the ashen dust. Then, with no reason to stay, for the Way of the Zen had yet to return, Z-Bo wandered westward over the Big Country’s vastness. He wandered towards the setting sun. But, as Z-Bo wandered, the Watcher of Memphis saw his large, glacial frame carving its way through the Big Country. He looked like a bear to lead all bears, so the Watcher came forth to greet him.

When Marc Gasol called out to Z-Bo, Z-Bo struck him with his hammer. When the hammer landed its heavy blow on Marc’s sternum, Z-Bo was shocked that Marc’s bones did not shatter: Nothing before had ever withstood the strength of his Walton hammer. But, at this time, in the middle of the Big Country, the hammer landed on bone that like it had grown from a sacred tree. The Thunder and the Watcher embraced, and, then, with no words needed, each cut a small vein in his arm and, letting their blood flow together, they became brothers; the Grit and the Grind.


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