Tag Archives: NBA

Why My Head is in The NBA…

Bballbannerbanner201obama18-950x594I have to admit that after the exhausting, exhilarating and ultimately victorious contest that was the hotly contested 2012 Presidential Election. I’m taking a breather from politics to immerse myself in the NBA Basketball season.

Cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel at thThough I’m paying close attention to the Papal Conclave, the Sequester melodrama, Rand Paul’s drone strike filibuster, the Chuck Hagel affair, Paul Ryan’s continuing budgetary impudence — and everything else that Lawrence O’Donnell is covering on MSNBC — the fact is, I don’t have much disposable time.

Between my day-to-day work in television, writing The New Vic & Paul Show with my hilarious wife, the imminent graduations of my two younger daughters (Eva from Louisville High School in May and Emilia from Northwestern University in June) — and trying to develop some new TV shows to pay for it all, I have scant time for recreation and vicarious emotional release.

That’s where the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Clippers fill the bill.

Let’s be clear. I am not a front-runner. Never have been.

Austin_carr_top_000As a Cleveland native and Cavaliers fan since the days of Austin Carr in the Cleveland Arena during my grade school years, I was nonetheless completely supportive of LeBron James’ move to join Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat.

After seven years of servitude under an owner who surrounded The King with nothing better than Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison, LeBron had a right to pursue a championship in Miami.

So, in the East, I am rooting for LeBron James and The Heat.

In the West, my preferences are just as personal and idiosyncratic.

Michael JordanAfter spending my post-Northwestern University, early adulthood in Chicago in the 1980’s, I was a Michael Jordan and Bulls fan who had just moved to Los Angeles in 1991 — when Air Jordan and the Bulls defeated The “Showtime” Lakers for the first of six NBA titles. If I had any money at all that June, I could have made a mint betting against all the overconfident Lakers fans I watched those NBA finals with.

f256fb37612dd205421094a3ce4251bcDespite living in Los Angeles, I was never really a Lakers fan. I loved former Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson – and I hated Bulls owner Reinsdorf and his General Manager, Jerry “players don’t win championships, organizations do” Krause. But while I celebrated The Zen Master’s success with The Lakers, I could never embrace Kobe Bryant, despite his incandescent talent.

elton-brand-02So, like Billy Crystal, I turned my attention to the underdog Los Angeles Clippers. I enjoyed the rise of The Clippers during the Elton Brand/Chris Kaman era – but, in the past two years, my devotion to The Clippers has been repaid with interest.

chris-paul-blake-griffinThis year, The Clippers have been the greatest show in the NBA. “Lob City” has been a nonstop showcase of team play, dazzling, high-flying dunks, aggressive, larcenous defense – and the deepest bench in the NBA. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, DeAndre Jordan – and super subs Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Eric Bledsoe have raised expectations for what The Clippers can do in the NBA playoffs.

So, whoever gets elected Pope – and whatever those a*#holes in the GOP do to President Barack Obama’s agenda – I’ll be rooting for a Miami Heat versus Los Angeles Clippers NBA Final.deandre-jordan-alleyoop-dunk-over-pistons

After that, I’ll get back to what really matters.

But, boy oh boy – would I love to see LeBron James go one-on-one with Paul Ryan…

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Survivor: The NBA Playoffs

“Outwit. Outplay. Outlast.”

Starting with its second season in 2001, I’ve been an avid, devoted fan of CBS’ long-running reality competition series, Survivor. There’s nothing on television to match Survivor’s gripping mix of offbeat characters, team drama and cutthroat competition — as 16 castaways on a tropical island contend to outwit, outplay and outlast each other in order to win a million dollars.

Unless it’s the 16 basketball teams filled with millionaires contending for a championship in the NBA Playoffs.

Like the contestants on Survivor, the NBA playoff teams run a prime time gauntlet in which only one contender takes the prize. (Though unlike Survivor, backstabbing teammates is not a good strategy for winning the NBA playoffs.) Yet, the best NBA playoff teams are those that can outwit, outplay and outlast their opponents.

OUTWIT

Strategy is key on Survivor but often overlooked in the NBA – a league filled with spectacular athletes who can do marvelous, almost miraculous things on the basketball court.

In the 7-game series format of the NBA playoffs, brains can often outweigh brawn – and savvy game strategy, mental discipline, and smart decisions on the court take on added value.

Great coaching is key. According to conventional wisdom early this season, the old, fading stars on the San Antonio Spurs had little chance to go deep into the playoffs. But head coach Gregg Popovich is a basketball genius with more playoff experience than any coach who will oppose him.

In the NBA playoffs, where a mental edge matters, Coach Popovich is a difference maker. So is Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers – another guy who’s kept an aging ballclub in contention.

As for players who can outwit opponents, there are point guards like the Spurs’ Tony Parker and the Clippers’ Chris Paul who can dissect a defense on the fly, break it down, and create shots for either themselves or their teammates – all in a series of split-second decisions. LeBron James can do it, too.

It’s called “basketball IQ”, and champions have it.

Then there are those talented players who are undone by their lack of mental discipline. Even a smart guy like Boston’s Rajon Rondo – who has a relatively high basketball IQ – managed to hurt his team by chest-bumping a referee with just 41 seconds remaining in a Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, earning him an automatic ejection – and a suspension for Game 2.

Los Angeles Lakers power forward Meta World Peace (aka Ron Artest) momentarily lost his (volatile) mind in the last game of the regular season and sent Oklahoma City’s James Harden crashing to the floor with a vicious elbow to the head. The league hit World Peace with a 7-game suspension, sending The Lakers into the first round of the playoffs without him.

In another mad mental breakdown, New York Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire, took out his frustration after the Knicks’ Game 2 loss to the Miami Heat by putting his fist through the glass door of a fire extinguisher case. Stoudemire’s lapse of judgment required 15 stitches in his left hand, and his status for Game 3 – and beyond — is in doubt.

The NBA playoffs are a mental endurance contest, and Rondo, World Peace and Stoudemire are prime examples of what happens when players let their emotions overwhelm their judgment.

Remember when the legendary Dennis Rodman played relentless mental games with less-disciplined players and baited them into foolish fouls?

Rodman won 5 NBA championships by getting into his opponents’ heads.

In another sign of the importance of the mental game, Chris Paul led the Clippers to an historic come-from behind victory after falling behind 27 points late in the third quarter of Game 1 against the Grizzlies in Memphis.

When Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro tried to rest Paul early in the fourth quarter of what appeared to be an inevitable losing cause, his All-Star point guard urged his coach to keep him in the game. “Give us a chance,” he implored De Negro. That attitude proved infectious.

Later in the quarter, with less than nine minutes in the clock and The Clippers trailing by 24, the team huddled – and reserve forward Reggie Evans stepped up to say, “C’mon, man, we’re not quitting.” And, according to Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin,  “That was the attitude we had the rest of the way.” It was an attitude that Chris Paul reminded Griffin about when he stepped to the line to shoot two critical free throws in the closing moments of the game. “Give us these two. Just give us a chance,” Paul told Griffin – and the usually unreliable free throw shooter knocked them both down to cut Memphis’ lead to one before the Clippers closed out the Grizzlies 99-98 to steal home court advantage in the series.

The Clippers kept their wits about them – and the Grizzlies lost theirs. Thus, the Clippers survived.

OUTPLAY

Contestants on Survivor talk a lot about wanting to be respected as players of the game. But to be a great Survivor player, you’ve got to excel at both sides of the game: in the challenges and back art camp. A skilled and athletic player can win rewards and immunity in a challenge – but if they don’t watch their back at camp – where alliances are made and schemes are set in motion — a treacherous blindside might await that player at Tribal Council even if he or she has won immunity.

There have been few challenge players better than big, strong James on Survivor: China in the show’s fifteenth season.  James managed to win one immunity idol and he found another – but he was a lousy strategic player in camp and got blindsided in spectacular fashion: getting voted off the island while holding both immunity idols because, overconfident and out-of-the-loop, he failed to play one at Tribal Council. It was the first (and probably the last) time that happened to anyone on the show.

The best Survivor challenge competitor ever, Ozzy, won five out of six individual immunity challenges on Survivor: Cook Islands. At the final Tribal Council, he was praised for his physical skills, yet criticized for being a loner at camp. So, despite the fact that host Jeff Probst said Ozzy had dominated physically like nobody ever has, he finished in second place. On Survivor: Micronesia, after dominating the challenges again, Ozzy managed to get himself voted out while holding an immunity idol.

In Survivor, champions must excel on both sides of the game.

Likewise, the NBA Playoffs require great play on both ends of the floor: offense and defense.

You don’t make it to the NBA Playoffs if you can’t play. At this level, everyone on the floor is a skilled player. But if you want to win an NBA title you must play at a high level consistently, minute-to-minute, quarter-to-quarter, game-to-game – on both the offensive and defensive end. You’ve got to do the pretty work and the dirty work.

Why are the exceptionally talented Oklahoma City Thunder, blessed with the young and gifted Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, struggling to stay just one lousy basket ahead of the aging Boston Celtics? Because The Thunder doesn’t bring intensity to the defensive end. And on offense, The Thunder is not doing the hard work of getting into the paint, drawing contact, and taking the ball to the rim. Jump shooting is nice. 3-point shots are really cool. But NBA championships are won by hard-nosed play in the lane.

Everyone knows the Miami Heat have great players. In fact, they have three of the league’s best in LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. But it’s not Miami’s highlight reel offense that wins games – it’s their suffocating, athletic defense. As amamzing as LeBron James is on the offensive end – he plays even bigger on the defensive end, often taking on the role of stopper against the other team’s best player. That’s not something you’ll see The Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony do. And that’s among the reasons you won’t see Carmelo getting a ring anytime soon.

The Lakers’ playoff chances rise when their defense stiffens – and their title hopes soared when their mercurial center Andrew Bynum blocked 10 shots in their Game 1 victory over Denver. Bynum doesn’t always play defense (or offense) with that kind of intensity. He’ll have to play consistently at a high rate on both ends of the floor if the Lakers hope to have a shot at the title – despite how well Kobe Bryant plays. (And you know killer Kobe will bring his A-game each and every night.)

OUTLAST

The third key to Survivor and NBA Playoff victory is not always in the player’s control: just like when this season’s nasty, scheming villain Colton was forced off Survivor island due to appendicitis.

Colton was carried off on a stretcher by the Survivor medical team — still clutching his now-worthless immunity idol.

Sometimes, an NBA player, like Stoudemire, will take himself out of the playoffs with an injury he could have easily avoided. But far more often, fate deals a shockingly cruel blow – as it did to Chicago’s star point guard, Derrick Rose, who tore his ACL in the closing moments of the Bull’s Game 1 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, ending his season and, perhaps, the Bulls title hopes in 2012.

Later that same day, The Knicks’ valuable rookie guard Iman Shumpert injured his knee during their brutal 33-point Game 1 loss to the Heat, tearing both his anterior cruciate ligament and his meniscus. (Ouch!)

Without Stoudemire and Shumpert (and Jeremy Linn who’s also out with a severe knee injury) it doesn’t look like The Knicks will outlast anyone in these NBA playoffs.

The Clippers resounding comeback victory in Game 1 against The Grizzlies was marred by a late-game injury to their starting forward, Caron Butler. A key piece of the Clipper’s winning puzzle, Butler is set to miss the next four to six weeks with a broken left hand, which he caught in an opposing player’s jersey. It was a freak injury – and a blow to the Clippers’ playoff hopes.

A team has got to stay healthy to outlast the field in the NBA Playoffs.

Outwit. Outplay. Outlast.

That’s what I love about Survivor – and the NBA Playoffs.

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10 More Rays of Sunlight

With earthquakes, tsunamis and meltdowns in Japan, House Speaker John Boehner and the GOP Teahadists threatening to shut down the government, and fabulous Pia Toscano getting voted off “American Idol” — things can seem pretty bleak. But, as I’ve said before, it’s does no good to retreat into the darkness of despair. We must seek the light. No matter how black the landscape appears at night — there are rays of sunshine rising just below the horizon. Here are 10 rays of light that, for me, provide illumination in the current gloom

1.  Boehner Plummets in the Polls

Speaker John Boehner, meet Speaker Newt Gingrich.

It didn’t take very long for John “Crybaby” Boehner to lose favor with the American people. Blubbering Boehner’s approval rating has fallen 18 points since early January. Weepy John celebrated the New Year with a 35% job approval rating. Three months later, his approval rating is falling like bitter tears – down to 25%. And that’s before he blunders into a government shutdown. Americans actually seem to be paying attention to just how bad a job Boehner is doing of governing. Boehner and Gingrich. Together forever.

2. The NBA Playoffs

The real pro basketball season is about to begin: the NBA playoffs. Let’s face it. The regular season is just an 82-game tournament seeding process. Now things get serious. And this could be one of the best NBA playoffs ever. The first four teams in each conference all have a legitimate shot. (Okay, maybe not Dallas.)

The storylines could hardly be more compelling. Will the aging veteran Boston Celtics reach the finals and deny retiring Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson his fourth and final NBA title three-peat? Will LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and the star-studded Miami Heat deny the Chicago Bulls and MVP candidate Derrick Rose a return to their first NBA Finals since the Michael Jordan era? And you can’t ignore the consistency and professionalism of the San Antonio Spurs or the explosive youth and athleticism of the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder.

3. Survivor: Redemption Island

I am an unabashed Survivor fan – and this season is shaping up to be one of the best. The Redemption Island twist has added a new and intriguing wrinkle to what is already the best television game show ever produced. Bringing back classic villains Russell Hantz and Boston Rob didn’t work out as well as the producers might have hoped – but, then again, did anyone expect to see bad boy Russell reduced to tears?

Boston Rob & "The Former Federal Agent"

Boston Rob seems to be in charge of the game, but if Bible-toting Matt can return from his second stint on Redemption Island, he may yet be a factor. Meanwhile, Phillip the “former federal agent” just might be the craziest character in the game’s history. Will the girls ever turn on Boston Rob? Damn, I love this show.

I’ll go tally the votes. The tribe has spoken.

4. Baseball Season Begins

All I need to say is this: at this moment in the 2011 Major League Baseball season my Cleveland Indians are in first place in the AL Central.

There’s a whiteboard hanging in Indians manager Manny Acta’s office upon which is written, “The road to success is not a freeway. It’s a tollway and it’s always under construction.” The Indians are a work in progress, indeed. They’ve got a young roster and a parsimonious payroll – but they just swept the wealthy superstars of the Boston Red Sox with bunches of home runs and a suicide squeeze bunt. However, even if the Tribe finishes the season with a stunningly unlikely World Series victory, I’ll never refer to The Jake as “Progressive Field”.

5. NU Dance Marathon Sets Fundraising Record

It’s not just that I’m proud of my daughter Emilia and her fellow NU Dance Marathon emcee Jesse Swedlund for keeping more than 900 student dancers moving for thirty straight hours in early March — although their energy, enthusiasm and good humor were prodigious, indeed. But to top off the whole experience, the 2011 Marathon raised over a million dollars for The Children’s Heart Foundation. ($1,019,130 to be exact.) It was inspiring to go back to campus and see so many great young people having so much fun working up a sweat for a worthy cause.

6. Glenn Beck Leaving FOX

What could be better than the news that Glenn Beck’s god-awful show will be off Fox News Channel later this year? It’s like Christmas in April. It’s like an early birthday present. (April 16th, by the way.) Beck’s ratings have sunk 30% from their peak, and an advertiser boycott also took its toll. Crazy Beck was reduced to hawking gold coins and dubious workout products. Of course, FOX softened the blow, saying they’ll still be in business with Beck, starting with some Beckumentaries — but no longer having to endure a daily dose of Beck’s chalkboard ravings is reason enough to smile.

7. Casey on American Idol

I was shocked when Pia Toscano got voted off, but I’m glad that “Idol” judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler had already used their one and only save to keep Casey Abrams on the show. I dig Casey’s style, his voice, and his groovy bass playing. He’s unique. In fact, Casey’s so cool, I’m amazed he’s still in it. It’s gratifying to know there are so many “American Idol” watchers with good taste. (Even if they did make a mistake booting Pia.) But, seriously, Paul McDonald? Really? That dude’s raspy, one-octave voice is wearing as thin as his smile is wide.

8. Michelle Bachmann for President

The fact that Michele Bachmann, the wacky Tea party darling and GOP Congresswoman from Minnesota, is seriously considering running for the Republication Presidential nomination is a gift that will keep on giving. I can’t wait see her on the GOP primary ballot in Iowa. Man, I hope she wins in Iowa. Then, she can ride her crazy train to New Hampshire. With Michelle ranting and raving on the extreme right wing, just imagine how far toward the fringe Newt and Huckabee and the Donald will have to go. And could there be room on the GOP crazy train for both Bachmann and Palin? How about Palin-Bachmann 2012? Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! Could anything that fun actually happen? It would be the death of satire, true. But it would also spell doom for the Republican Party.

9. The Vic & Paul Show Goes to Chicago

After a 22-year absence from the Chicago area stage, my wife Victoria and I will perform “The Vic & Paul Show” at The Prop Theatre from June 9-12. It’s going to be great fun doing comedy in Chicago again – and even more fun to be doing it with the brilliant Steve Rashid at the keyboard. If you don’t have your tickets yet – don’t wait too long. It’s a limited engagement (5 shows) and The Prop’s an intimate space (70 seats). For reservations, go to: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/169351

10. Easter Will Soon Be Here!

For untold centuries, after the darkness and cold of winter, human cultures have celebrated the return of life and light in the spring. That’s why The Easter season is such a profound holiday. It’s a celebration of life’s annual victory over death. Which is why it’s fitting that Christians celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection at this time. This is one of those years when “regular” Easter and Greek Easter are on the same day. Since my wife is Greek Orthodox, we always enjoy a big Greek Easter dinner with our close circle of friends. Legs of lamb on the barbecue grill, dyed red eggs, pastitso and baklava. Oh yeah, some Ouzo, too. I’m in heaven just thinking about it. Opa!

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Lakers goeth before the Cavs…

“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18

A little over a month ago, the Los Angeles Lakers drubbed my downtrodden, LeBron James-abandoned, hometown Cleveland Cavaliers by 55 points. It was the worst night of a dismal basketball season for a humble NBA franchise that had come close to greatness while witnessing the rise of King James.

In the long months since LeBron left Cleveland, I’ve had to endure a steady stream of Los Angeles sports radio blather about the inevitability of another Lakers championship.

Even when the Lakers lost games they should have won against inferior teams, the rationale was that, come the playoffs, the Lakers will “hit the switch”.

And that could still happen, but…

Cavs head coach (and ex-Laker) Byron Scott must have enjoyed the upset victory over his former team.

Last night, on the glorious evening of February 16, 2011 – the Cleveland Cavaliers rose up on their home court and regained a measure of civic and personal pride by beating the defending NBA champs 104-99. The Cavs’ emotional upset of the Lakers was Los Angeles’ third loss in a row going into the All-Star break.

That’s why so many of us are passionate about sports. It’s partly about the action and the stunning athleticism – but mostly it’s about the drama, the stories – and transcendent moments like what happened to the Goliath Lakers at the hands of the Cavaliers last night.

For one night in Cleveland — in the middle of an otherwise abysmal season — the Cleveland Cavaliers were giant-killers.

Pride goeth before the fall…

And sometimes just before the All-Star break.

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LeBron: The King Moves On…

As a Cleveland native, I’m getting asked my opinion of LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers — and many of my friends and co-workers expect me to be upset, indignant, jilted, etc. So, while the blogosphere hardly needs one more commentary on LeBron James’ move to the Miami Heat, I’ll make this short and to the point.

LeBron doesn’t owe me anything.

He’s a professional basketball player  who wants to win and be remembered as the best to play the game. That’s a tall order, and yet he’s one of the very few with the physical gifts, youth and talent to potentially eclipse the legendary legacies of Wilt, Russell, Oscar, Bird, Kareem, Magic, MJ and, yes, Kobe. So, as an unestricted free agent, having sized up his chances for multiple NBA championships with the Cavaliers in Cleveland, LeBron has chosen to move on. So be it.

After all, LeBron already did the Hometown Hero thing. Born in nearby Akron, LeBron went to Cleveland to start his career when he could have pulled some kind of “I won’t sign” stunt to avoid it. (Others certainly have.) And he brought a lot of excitement to Cleveland:  7 seasons with no behind-the-scenes demands to be traded, no belittling of his teammates, or any of that negative superstar prima donna crap. That’s why Cavs fans loved him. It wasn’t just his points, assists, rebounds, and come-from-behind shot-blocking — it was his behavior as a relatively-solid citizen.

I don’t know what happened against the Celtics in the playoffs. How can you go from blowing the Celtics out in Boston to being unable to win anther game? (I’ve heard ALL the rumors.) But, now that the NBA playoffs are over, it’s obvious the Celtics were better than any of us thought they were at the end of the regular season. That collection of veteran all-stars took The Lakers to Game 7. Maybe, just maybe — all the locker room rumors notwithstanding — the Celtics were still the better team.

A player the caliber of LeBron James deserves his shot at winning multiple titles. That wasn’t happening in Cleveland. Am I disappointed? Yes, of course, I am. Do I feel betrayed? Not at all. The bitter Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert, says LeBron quit during the playoffs. He’s crying out loud in an open letter about LeBron’s lack of loyalty. Hey, Dan! You just fired a head coach and GM who won more games in the last two seasons than anybody else in the NBA. Stuff your indignation. Perhaps Gilbert’s fit of pissy pique is an inside glimpse at yet another factor in LeBron’s decision to exit the Cavs. Dan Gilbert owns the Cavs. He doesn’t own LeBron James.

As for “The Decision” and all the pomp, pageantry and ESPN schmaltz that attended it? If the media and fans dub somebody “King James”, don’t be shocked when he behaves like royalty. I, for one, will be rooting for my Cavs and for LeBron James and The Miami Heat. (I’ve always liked D. Wade.) But if the Cavs and Heat match up in the playoffs, I’ll be rooting for LeBron to remain ring-less. That would be a great story.

Not the King of Cleveland anymore. The Sultan of South Beach?

Oh yeah, now about those two wars we’re fighting and that oily problem in the Gulf…

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An Open Letter to Zydrunas Ilgauskas

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…

Dear Zydrunas,

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?

Z was the 1998 MVP of the Rookie Challenge -- Back when he had hair.

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,

Paul

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