CLEVELAND – In what many considered worthy and over-due, The Cleveland Cavaliers retired the jersey number of Lithuanian center, Zydrunas Ilgauskas Saturday night at halftime against the New York Knicks.
Drafted in the 1996 NBA Draft in the first round (20th overall) out of Lithuania, Ilgauskas played 29 games in his first three three due to foot injuries and is a true modern-day NBA marvel while being a testament to perseverance in overcoming a likely shortened career to play an average of 73 games from 2003 to 2008.
At 7’3″, Ilgauskas is the franchise’s leader in blocks (1,269), games played (771), rebounds (5,904). In 12 seasons with the Cavaliers, the 13-year veteran averaged 13.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. A two-time All-Star who is known to have a close friendship with the most hated man in modern-day Cleveland sports, LeBron James, could the man affectionately known as “Z” help bring James back home to Ohio?
It’s certainly a long shot, and considering the relationship between the fans and James, Ilgauskas could hypothetically use his relationship with James as a recruiting tool as leverage and entice the former Akron St. Vincent St. Mary high school star to return home and win a title in his home state.
Make no mistake, Saturday night is all about Ilgauskas, yet deep in the psyche of every Cavs fan, the thought of James being on hand to witness the jersey retirement of his closest friend—whom followed him to Miami for his last NBA season—may not be too far-fetched.
It will all just depend on how well James is received and how things shake out down in South Beach, but as we all know in the NBA, players change teams as often as fans change channels, so while it may be a proverbial pipe dream among the long-suffering legion of Cleveland sports fans about James coming back, perhaps with Ilgauskas’ counsel—now as special assistant to Dan Gilbert—the King could indeed return to his true kingdom in Cleveland.