On Saturday night, March 8, 2014 the Cleveland Cavaliers plan on retiring the jersey of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, better known by Clevelanders as “Z”. Z listed at 7 feet 3 inches played from 1996 to 2011 all with the Cleveland Cavaliers except for his final season in the National Basketball Association. He was drafted 20th overall in the 1996 draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Unfortunately Z’s early career was injury riddled especially with foot and ankle issues. After signing an extension in 1998 worth around 70 million dollars, he played only five games over the next two seasons. During the 1996-97 season he did not play a single game because of a broken right foot. During the 2000 season, Z was injured again in December and eventually had surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot on January 26, 2000. Ilgauskas eventually returned and was the starting center for the Cavaliers and was selected to his first All-Star game during the 2002-2003 season.
After that season the Cleveland Cavaliers earned the number one overall pick and chose LeBron James from St. Vincent-St. Mary high school. The Cavaliers choose to use Z and James as the cornerstones of the franchise and missed the playoffs that first season. However, starting in 2006 the Cavs made the playoffs in five straight seasons including the NBA finals in 2007. That was the first time Z made it to the NBA Finals; the second time coming in 2011 as a member of the Miami Heat. However, Z did not win a title. Thus being defeated by the San Antonio Spurs in 2007 and the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. Z announced his retirement in September 2011 and officially retired in 2012 in order to spend more time with his family.
Z was a very valuable member while on the Cleveland Cavaliers because he is an all-time leader in many different fields. He is ranked number one when it comes to the amount of games played: (771), offensive rebounds (2,336), total rebounds (5,904), and blocked shots (1,269). Z was quite good at shooting the 15-17 foot jump shot especially for being 7’3’’. These stats show how Z was a central part of the Cavs and without him the Cavs would not have been successful during every season he played for the Cavaliers. Currently, Z is still an important part of the Cavs because he works in the front office as an assistant general manager.
Z’s impact on the National Basketball Association goes beyond his on the court success. He was a leader and role model for many Lithuanian players who played over seas as well as in the United States. One example of this is the starting center for the Toronto Raptors, Jonas Valanciunas.
Z, we truly appreciate everything you have done for the NBA, the Cavaliers, and basketball as a whole. You truly deserve this honor!