Background Note: On Tuesday March 2nd, several of Z’s former Cleveland teammates, including Anderson Varejao, Anthony Parker, and conditioning coach Stan Kellers, visited Ilgauskas in New York City, hoping to persuade him to re-sign with the Cavs and help them make a run at the NBA title. Ilgauskas, who maintains a home in SoHo, was traded to the Washington Wizards in a February deal for All-Star forward Antawn Jamison.
The Wizards bought out Z’s contract, making him a free agent — and it’s possible that he could return to the Cavs, but only after the 30-day waiting period required for players traded from their former teams. Unfortunately, Z is still free to sign with another team if he chooses to do so. Hopefully, he’ll re-sign with the Cavs.
But, as we Clevelanders can take nothing for granted, I must make my personal case to Zydrunas Ilgauskas…
Please come back to Cleveland.
I would be a lifelong Cleveland Cavaliers fan if I hadn’t been born 12 years before the franchise played its first game in the fall of 1970. And after all those years of supporting the Cavs through thin and thin, it looks like this year’s talented team is finally on the verge of bringing my hometown its first major national sports championship since the great football Browns shut out Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts 27-0 in the NFL title game on December 27, 1964. On that legendary day 46 years ago, the Browns were lead on the ground by Cleveland’s foremost sports superstar, Jim Brown, and in the air by Gary Collins’ NFL record-setting four touchdown catches. It was also the first NFL title game to be televised by CBS. (They didn’t play the Super Bowl back in those days.)
The Cleveland Cavaliers need you, Z. For 14 years — since you were the Cav’s 20th pick of the 1996 NBA Draft — you’ve been the best big man in the franchise’s history: the best since 35-year old Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond patrolled the paint for the Cavs in their miracle 1976 season, which ended with a loss in the Eastern Conference Finals to the star-studded Boston Celtics. In fact, I saw Nate shatter a backboard on a dunk at the Richfield Coliseum – back when backboards could still shatter.
But you, Z, have been the stalwart on a steadily improving team that was finally blessed with decent front office management and an epochal 2003 draft pick, LeBron James. Four years later, King James got to the NBA Finals in 2007 with you at center, didn’t he Z? (Though the San Antonio Spurs won all four games.)
I realize that Cavs management felt the team got beat up down low in the Eastern Conference Championship last season. Orlando’s Dwight Howard is a beast in the paint, but honestly Z, we didn’t lose that series in the post. The Magic’s Hedu Turkoglu and Mickael Pietrus killed us on the perimeter. We Cavs fans never blamed that loss on you, Z. At least not the knowledgeable among us.
I know this season has been one of highs and lows for you, Zydrunas. You dealt with the blockbuster trade for Shaquille O’Neal with professionalism and a team-first mentality that endeared Cleveland fans to you even more, if that was possible. Despite not being a starter for the first time in years, you came off the bench in a December 2, 2009 game against the Phoenix Suns to break the team record for career games played, overtaking General Manager Danny Ferry.
Then on February 17, 2010, you were traded to the Washington Wizards as part of a three-team, six-player trade that, among other moves, brought Antawn Jamison from Washington to Cleveland. Your agent said you felt like a pawn in that deal. There’s no doubt that Jamison is a great addition to our frontcourt – but you were a great loss. However, there was always a loophole in the deal that would make your return to the Cavaliers possible. In fact, after being bought out and waived by the Wizards, you can re-sign with the Cavs after March 22nd.
And since Shaquille O’Neal injured his thumb on February 25th at Boston — when his shot was blocked by Glen “Big Baby” Davis with just over 7 minutes left in the first half — we need you, Z, more than ever. Shaq had surgery on his injured right thumb and seems likely to miss the rest of the regular season. We need you back at center to take over on the block for Shaq. (Not to mention your lethal 3-point shooting!) And when the playoffs begin, we need you and Shaq to become powerful partners once again. Shaq’s injury has written the perfect script for a hero like you.
You belong in Cleveland, Z. Where else but in Cleveland can you play for a fan base with such a high percentage of last names that are harder to pronounce than your own?
When the deal for Shaquille O’Neal was made, Superman arrived with an “S” on his chest.
Now, we Cavalier fans are counting on a familiar hero, with a “Z’ emblazoned on his jersey. And on our hearts.
Come home, Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Your rightful share of an NBA title is within your grasp.
With love and admiration,