July 25, 2014

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LeBron James interested in attending when Cavs retire Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ number

Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Zydrunas Ilgauskas

INDEPENDENCE — An upcoming ceremony may have just gotten bigger.

LeBron James could be at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night when the Cavaliers retire the No. 11 jersey of former center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Ilgauskas, who played with James for seven years in Cleveland and another in Miami, had the Akron native on a list of former teammates he wanted to invite to the event, which will take place at halftime of a game against the New York Knicks.

James, who left Cleveland in July 2010 and can opt out of his contract with the Heat this summer, is reportedly strongly considering attending but doesn’t want to detract from Ilgauskas’ night. Miami is off Friday and Saturday and plays in Chicago on Sunday.

“I talk to ‘Z’ very often, probably once or twice a month,” James told The Plain Dealer.

“He meant everything to me. When you come in as a rookie, you try to find a leader, that veteran, that guy who’s been around to learn the ropes from.

“He taught me how to be a professional on and off the floor. That’s something you cannot ever take for granted. He was everything to me.”

The Cavs are planning an elaborate ceremony to honor the 38-year-old Ilgauskas, who is now special assistant to the general manager — David Griffin has taken over for the fired Chris Grant — and holds franchise records for games played (771), rebounds (5,904), offensive rebounds (2,336) and blocks (1,269) while ranking second in points (10,616).

Originally the No. 20 pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the shy, Lithuania-born Ilgauskas will be the subject of an 18-minute, 3-D halftime video that will be projected onto the court.

There will also be a special pregame introduction ceremony that will combine past and present Cavs players, while all fans in attendance will receive commemorative Z11/AllforZ T-shirts.

Following the halftime video presentation, Ilgauskas’ No. 11 jersey will be hoisted to the rafters alongside those of Austin Carr, Nate Thurmond, Bobby

“Bingo” Smith, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty, Mark Price and the longtime “Voice of the Cavs,” Joe Tait.

More than four years ago, James was one of Ilgauskas’ staunchest supporters when Cavs coach Mike Brown, who is now in his second stint with the team, did not play the center on the night he was slated to break Danny Ferry’s franchise record for games played.

It was the first time Ilgauskas had not played due to a coach’s decision in his NBA career, and he quickly left the arena without talking to reporters after the Cavs beat the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 28, 2009.

Ilgauskas, who is tentatively scheduled to talk to local media members later this week about his impending jersey retirement, broke the record for games played when he came in for Shaquille O’Neal in the first quarter of a Dec. 2, 2009, game against Phoenix.

Between the Mavs game and the Suns game, James criticized Brown for not playing Ilgauskas, who had friends in town for the Dallas game and asked that no mention of the record be announced over the public address system at the Phoenix game.

“I definitely thought he should have played,” James said at a practice soon after the Dallas game. “I’m not trying to stir up anything with Coach or the organization. I don’t know who made the call, but sometimes one game is a smaller thing. What was on the line (for Ilgauskas) was way bigger than us playing the Mavericks, and that was ‘Z’ breaking the record to become the franchise leader in games played.

“I stand behind ‘Z’ and whatever ‘Z’ feels at this point in time. I definitely, if I was in control of it, would have put him in, probably would have started him. You could have easily subbed him right out and had the standing ovation from the fans with a timeout. …

“It’s a sensitive subject. I’m not one to raise havoc or raise fire into the locker room or our team, but, for me, I speak the truth. I stand behind ‘Z’ and I feel like ‘Z’ not playing wasn’t the right thing. As a friend of his, I was very upset, and I know he was, also.”

Asked Monday at Cleveland Clinic Courts about not playing Ilgauskas the night he was first expected to break the record, Brown, who attributed his decision to “matchups” at that time, said, “Every blip I’ve had while I’ve coached with every player I’ve had, along with my wife, I’d like to take back. I really would.”

Asked what other players could learn from the 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas, who overcame numerous foot surgeries early in his career, Brown said, “Throw basketball stuff out the window. He’s a great human being. He’s a terrific, terrific human being. I really enjoyed being around him on and off the floor in my time here.”

Brown went on to compliment Ilgauskas and his family before adding, “He’s a professional. He helped a lot of our guys while he was here, not just on the floor, but off the floor. … (The jersey retirement) is well-deserved. Hopefully, he’s looking forward to it as much as we are.”

The night he broke Ferry’s mark by appearing in his 724th game with the Cavs, Ilgauskas did not take questions from the media for one of the few times in his career.

“I’d like to thank the fans for the reception tonight,” he said. “That was one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in my life. That’s the closest I’ve come to tears on the basketball floor.

“I’m not going to go into any details,” he said about not playing in the previous game. “I’m going to be a bigger man and walk away from that. I know when I go to bed at night, my conscience is clear.”

Later that season, Ilgauskas was dealt to Washington in the trade that brought Antawn Jamison to Cleveland, but eventually re-signed with Cleveland for the rest of the season after the Wizards bought him out of his contract.

Ilgauskas, who saw his dreams of winning a title in Cleveland end when the Cavs lost to Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals, played the following season with James in Miami and then retired.

“I love this team and I love my teammates,” Ilgauskas said the night he broke the franchise record for games played. “They’re like family to me. I’m going to come to work every day and try my hardest. Hopefully, we can win a championship for this city, because (the people) deserve it.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.

  • stop ur whining part deux

    Thanks but no thanks Bron Bron. You left and we do not want you back in any capacity. Delonte called, he wants your mom’s number.

    • wow

      Um, I think you have it backwards – HE doesn’t want YOU back. And why would he – he left for bigger and better things, and the way he was treated by the owner after he left just reinforced his decision. Who would want to come here after Gilbert cried like a little baby? He’s going for the 3-peat, and the Cavs are preparing for the fallout when Irving bolts. Without a new owner, the Cavs will never win it all.

      • stop ur whining part deux

        The cavs gave Lebron everything. We spoiled him like a child giving his friends jobs, and going after every free agent possible to find him a supporting cast. He will never be anything like the man he idolizes in Jordan. Jordan would never have teamed up with anyone.

        Greatest ever? No way, he eliminated himself form the discussion as soon as he needed to team up with Wade n Bosh. As for wanting us back…In many ways he does. He, like Art Modell will never be welcome back. Good riddance. As for Gilbert, I applaud his letter. Lebron embarrassed a city and a franchise in national TV and our owner called him on on it.

        The cavs mistake was spoiling him like a little child.

        • golfingirl

          But he did have 61 points last night…..laughing.

        • wow

          Good riddance? How have the Cavs been lately?

          • stop ur whining part deux

            DC. Really dont. He quit on a team and a city and humiliated us on national TV. Furthermore, the NBA and Baseball are perplexed about how large the NFL has become. One of the primary reasons football is so beloved is because small markets have a chance. Your major stars stay with franchises due to rules put in place, like the franchise tag for example.

            I hate baseball and the NBA for that reason. The entire league is set up so your large markets dominate and your smaller markets are there to develop the talent.

            I hope Lebron blows out his knees and never plays again, i wait for the reel on Sportcenter every night. Gilbert had an open check book while he was here. We went after EVERY big name that everyone was talking about and none panned out. Everyone makes it sound like he was surrounded by junk when he was here. Fact is, he just was not good enough. He had to have more than a pippen, he needed another Jordan on his team to win.

          • golfingirl

            I think it was all about the way he handle it. On live television, he basically dissed Cleveland.

            He should have at least had the respect to talk to Dan Gilbert before the spectacle he participated in on national television.

            It wasn’t about him leaving, but how he did it.

            Just my opinion.

          • stop ur whining part deux

            No, you are right. He could have told us the week before when we could have made some moves to trade him. He junked us on national TV. It was ridiculous.

            But the cavs are at fault. They never once put their foot down with him. They were so terrified of losing him that they never bothered to make him mature. That is the very first thing that they did in Miami. They said it is our way, or no way.

        • Oneday67

          Well said. I can’t agree with you more.

  • wow

    Just make sure to remove your rings – Dan Gilbert might try to steal one from you!

  • Bill

    Lebron who?

    Congratulations Z. I had the pleasure of attending your first game as a Cav and got to see many of your games over the years. Overcoming the many foot surgeries which I thought was impossible. Very deserving to a class guy.

    • wow

      James. MVPx4. Like, duh.

      • Bill

        You can fawn all over a douche bag who’s ego is so big he has to humiliate the team and the fans who supported him by having a hour long “decision” instead of doing it with some degree of class like most pro athletes.
        Speaks volumes about what type of person you are.

        • wow

          The decision was terrible. It was classless and just bad. No argument there. But your bitterness – this long after and when it’s clear to everyone outside NE Ohio that he made the right move – speaks volumes about what type of person you are. Have a drink and smile; you’ll be a happier person. But I know, you’re from NE Ohio, so bitter is how you roll.

          • Bill

            I have no issue whatsoever of his right to go to another team. Not bitter either. I will admit to being that at first, again because of “the decision” but am well past that.
            Other then that I really have no problem with him. Well maybe him tanking it in the Celtics series. One of the best BB players currently on the floor but will never match up with what Jordan did and the role players he had that Lebron should have been able to do with the role players on the Cavs.
            One thing I will not do is hang on his jock strap like you are doing and the other mindless sheep.