Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Tonight should be about Zydrunas and nothing else

cavs to retire zydrunasTonight at Quicken Loans Arena, the Cleveland Cavaliers will retire the No. 11 jersey of former center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who played for the team for 12 seasons.

Ilgauskas is the Cavs all-time leader in games played, offensive rebounds, total rebounds and blocked shots, and is second in points scored. He was also a two-time All Star and a member of the only team in franchise history to make the NBA Finals.

And he did it all after overcoming foot injuries that, at the time, seemed certain to stop his career before it even got started.

“I am happy and humbled by this great honor,” Ilgauskas said a few months ago when the Cavs announced the honor. “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.”

Of course, the attention won’t solely be on Ilgauskas tonight because LeBron James – a teammate for seven years in Cleveland and one in Miami – may be in attendance. The Heat are off today and with a Sunday game scheduled in Chicago, James is available.

If James does make an appearance it will be because Ilgauskas wants him there. The Cavs asked for a list of people closest to Ilgauskas to attend and he put James on the list. He didn’t do it as a slap in the face to the fans or to owner Dan Gilbert, he wants James there because of what the two meant to each other on and off the court.

“We both had respect for each other, played hard the same way. We both cared about our craft. I prided myself on being the first (to the gym), coming in early, getting my work done if we lost a game or something didn’t go our way. But numerous times I’d go into the gym at 8 in the morning and LeBron was there already for an hour,” Ilgauskas told The Plain Dealer earlier this week. “We cared for the team and the game. By the time we were more established and getting better and better, we both felt like this was our city almost – me having lived here so long and him having grown up nearby. Our personalities fell in line. We might not agree on everything all the time when we played together, but we always respected each other.”

You can certainly debate the merits of a franchise that has never won a championship retiring the jerseys of its players, but you can’t debate Ilgauskas’ wishes. The Cavs asked who he wanted and Ilgauskas put James on the list. If any fans get upset because James is there to honor a former teammate, that’s on them.

“It’s not my day, it’s not about me. It’s about Z,” James told ESPN, so he clearly gets it. “But (the fan reaction) wouldn’t matter to me. Obviously I’m there for a dear friend, to be able to support him, if I’m able to make it, and that’s the main thing.”

However you feel as a Cavs fan about James, tonight it is not about him, it is about Ilgauskas.

He gave everything to the fans and the franchise. The least the fan can do tonight is return the favor.

(Photo by The Associated Press)

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