If I were to ask the average NBA fan what they think of former Cleveland Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, I don’t think many people’s first response would be “all-time great”. However, the Cleveland Cavaliers (rightly) are poised to lift the number 11 jersey worn by Ilgauskas to the rafters on March 8th.
Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer first reported this news, but the fact that Ilgauskas’ number is being retired won’t be a surprise after you consider his accomplishments. For reference, the 7-foot-3 center is the franchise record holder in games played (771), blocked shots (1,269), and rebounds (5,904) while placing 4th in points scored (behind Lebron James, among others), and 4th in field goals made.
Don’t feel ashamed, as many people didn’t accurately understand what the big man brought to the table when he played. In fact, before Lebron James arrived in Cleveland (via Akron), there was a legitimate argument for Ilgauskas as the franchise’s “face”, and he averaged double-digits in points in 11 straight seasons for the Cavs.
At his (healthy) peak, Ilgauskas was among the game’s best centers (as evidenced by 2 All-Star selections), but most of all, he’s been an incredible ambassador for the game in his adopted hometown. Fittingly, he now works in the Cleveland front office, and I personally couldn’t be happier to see him getting his just due with the highest honor that any franchise can bestow upon a former player.
Congrats, Big Z.