April 24, 2014

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A big honor for a big man: Cavaliers to retire former star Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ jersey number

Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Zydrunas Ilgauskas

CLEVELAND — Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ jersey is going up to where he can’t even reach it.

The Cavaliers will retire Ilgauskas’ No. 11 on March 8, raising it to the rafters in Quicken Loans Arena to honor their beloved former center who overcame major foot injuries early in his career to become one of Cleveland’s best players.

“Zydrunas is not only one of the best basketball players to ever wear a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform, he is also one of the finest human beings that has ever been associated with the franchise,” Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said.

“‘Z’s numbers and productivity are clear evidence of his basketball success. What is more impressive about this gentle giant is the authentic concern and interest he displayed for not only his teammates, but for everybody who worked at the Cavaliers and for the loyal fans who supported him throughout and after his playing days.”

Ilgauskas’ jersey will be retired when the Cavs host the New York Knicks. It’s a fitting tribute to the popular Ilgauskas, who is known simply as “Z” to Cleveland fans.

He played 12 seasons with the Cavaliers and was twice named an NBA All-Star.

The 7-foot-3 Lithuanian was drafted by the Cavs in 1996. He finished with the second-most blocks and points in team history and was a major contributor on Cleveland playoff teams, including the one that made the NBA Finals in 2007.

Ilgauskas persisted after undergoing numerous reconstructive surgeries to fix his feet. At one point, Ilguaskas nearly retired but pushed on and enjoyed a solid NBA career.

“Zydrunas represents the very best of how any sports franchise would hope to be represented,” Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant said. “He was a hard-working competitor who persevered, was dedicated, inspiring, and was a great teammate. As good as he was on the court, he was just as good off the court and in our community.”

Ilgauskas, who currently works as a special assistant to Grant, is touched by the tribute.

“I am happy and humbled by this great honor,” he said. “Cleveland and the Cavaliers have been such a huge part of my life and it will be a very special and proud day for me and my family. I want to thank the Cavaliers and fans alike because I have been very fortunate to play here, work here and call Cleveland home.”

Ilgauskas will be the seventh player to have his jersey retired, joining Austin Carr, Nate Thurmond, Bobby “Bingo” Smith, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty and Mark Price.