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Find out the scoop on the CAVS from award-winning sports writer Bob Finnan.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Z video

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In case you missed it, here's a copy of the column I wrote the other day about my favorite Lithuanian:

In my humble opinion, his No. 11 jersey should one day hang from the rafters of Quicken Loans Arena.

Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas was one of the best big men to ever wear a Cavaliers' uniform. The 7-foot-3, 260-pounder from Lithuania is the team's all-time leader in total rebounds (5,904), offensive rebounds (2,336), blocked shots (1,269) and games played (771). While we're on the subject, he also held the record for most disqualifications (37) and personal fouls (2,591).

He retired from the NBA on Friday after 13 seasons. He averaged 13 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 843 career games.

He might have seen the writing on the wall after being inactive for the Eastern Conference finals against Chicago and the NBA Finals vs. eventual champion Dallas. He missed a few games toward the end of the regular season with a foot infection and was replaced by Joel Anthony at center. He never got back into Coach Erik Spoelstra's good graces.

Ilgauskas, 36, was a proud player. He never quite got over the stunt pulled by former Cavaliers coach Mike Brown during Ilgauskas' final year in Cleveland in 2009-10.

On the night Ilgauskas was ready to break Danny Ferry's all-time games played record, Brown mysteriously benched his center against Dallas.

Afterward, he said it was because of "matchups." It stuck in Ilgauskas' craw for the rest of the season. He was traded to Washington on Feb. 17, 2010, in the Antawn Jamison deal. He returned to the team after being waived by the Wizards, but didn't seem real thrilled with the maneuverings by Ferry, one of his best friends. Ilgauskas didn't like feeling like a pawn.

That ended his career with the Cavs. He followed LeBron James to Miami last year, chasing a championship ring. Of course, that didn't work out very well either. Moving to South Beach was a major adjustment for his family. He and his wife had adopted two orphan boys from Lithuania and it took quite some time to adjust to life in the fast lane.

Ilgauskas was drafted with the No. 20 overall pick by the Cavs in 1996. Then General Manager Wayne Embry also took Wright State's Vitaly Potapenko at No. 13 that year. Of course, Ilgauskas proved to be the better player from the start. He just couldn't stay on the court.

Foot problems caused him to miss two entire seasons and all but five games of the 1998-99 season. Once he finally had reconstructive surgery by Dr. Mark Myerson of Baltimore, his foot problems were over and he became one of the team's most dependable players.

He was a two-time All-Star and twice played in the NBA Finals. Ilgauskas appeared in 71 playoff games with the Cavs. He wasn't real flashy, but he was solid. Because of his perseverance from the foot surgeries, he became a fan - and media - favorite.

When he arrived in Cleveland after being drafted, he spoke very little English. It was a nightmare for the media trying to interview him.

The Cavs had him work with a language tutor. Of course, he picked up all the curse words from hanging around the locker room.

During his rookie year, he became inseparable with Cavs guard Bob Sura. Sura invited Ilgauskas to Thanksgiving dinner back in his hometown of Wilkes Barre, Pa.

While sitting at the table with Sura's family, Ilgauskas bellowed, "Pass the $#&@% mashed potatoes!" Sura's grandmother almost fell off her chair with his "colorful" language. They all got a laugh out of it.

Through the years, he became a standup guy and a go-to guy for the media. His sarcasm and self-deprecating style was a big hit with reporters mulling around the locker room.

One of his crowning moments was helping the Cavs win the Eastern Conference crown in 2007 and making the franchise's first trip to the Finals. They were swept by San Antonio in four games.

He walked away from a $1.3 million contract in Miami for the 2011-12 season, if there is a season.

His retirement will allow the Cavs to proceed on retiring his number, perhaps at a ceremony this season. Six others have their jersey retired, including Nate Thurmond, Bingo Smith, Austin Carr, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty and Mark Price.

Z's jersey belongs right next to theirs in the rafters.


Blogger Tonto Epstein said...

When does Rik Smits get his Pacers jersey retired. What, you say never? In that case, why in the hell does Ilgauskas deserve to have his jersey retired. 13 points and 7 rebounds a game and leading the Cavaliers to the 17-65 record that got them James. Wow, that was an awesome NBA career.

Only in Cleveland. Where mediocrity is actually considered excellence.

October 7, 2011 at 1:28 AM 

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