Ilgauskas to have jersey retired by Cavs

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 8, 2014 at 10:50 am •  Published: March 8, 2014
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CLEVELAND (AP) — At 7-foot-3, Zydrunas Ilgauskas towered over everyone yet stayed completely down to earth.

Soft-spoken and doggedly determined, Ilgauskas, who overcame serious injuries and personal tragedy to become one of Cleveland's best and most beloved players, will have his No. 11 jersey retired Saturday night during an elaborate halftime ceremony certain to be emotionally poignant.

The seventh player in team history to receive the honor, Ilgauskas joins Austin Carr, Nate Thurmond, Bobby "Bingo" Smith, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty and Mark Price in having his number raised to the rafters of Quicken Loans Arena.

All of them have career credentials worthy of the tribute, but the celebration for Ilgauskas goes far beyond any statistics.

"Throw basketball stuff out the window," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "He's a terrific human being."

Ilgauskas will be joined at the celebration by his wife, Jennifer, and their adopted sons, Deividas and Povilas. He'll be surrounded by family members, friends, former coaches and teammates, including LeBron James, who was invited by Ilgauskas and wanted to support the player known simply as "Z."

"Probably one of the most talented guys I ever played with," James said.

Ilgauskas conquered career-threatening foot injuries to become a two-time NBA All-Star as well as the Cavs' career leader in rebounds (5,904), games played (771) and blocks (1,269). He's second on the scoring list, behind only James.

A gentle giant off the floor, Ilgauskas accomplished it all through hard work, enduring endless hours of grueling rehab and treatment to fulfill a dream that began as a small boy playing soccer and volleyball in Lithuania.

Ilgauskas spent 12 seasons with the Cavs, and for a long stretch of his tenure he was the only good thing about the franchise. That all changed when James arrived in 2003, and along with Ilgauskas — an odd couple if there ever was one — they led the Cavs to their only NBA finals appearance in 2007.

One of the enduring moments in Cleveland sports over the last 30 years was James and Ilgauskas wrapping their arms around each other to celebrate the Cavs' win over Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals. After being traded, Ilgauskas followed James to Miami and played one season with the Heat.

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