Last week, former Cavs’ center Zydrunas Ilgauskas announced his retirement from professional basketball after 14 seasons in the NBA. It was big news around these parts because Ilguaukas spent all but his last season toiling for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Many people have speculated that eventually the big man from Lithuania will wind up working for the organization he played for most of his career, and it looks as though the Cavaliers will honor Z by retiring his #11.
You can discern that because this year’s first overall pick, Kyrie Irving, was dissuaded by the front office from taking the number.
Certainly, Ilguaskas deserves some sort of tribute by the Cavs, after all, he is the leading rebounder in franchise history as well as playing in more games and blocking more shots as a Cavalier than anyone else.
He’s also in the top five in wine and gold history in points, field goals made and free throws made. He also was a big contributor on the only Cleveland team to get to the NBA Finals.
He did this all, yet we still don’t know how good the big man would have been had his career not been plagued by foot problems throughout his career. He missed his rookie season and most of two others with fractures in his feet.
He persevered and came back in 2001-02, and actually became a very durable player, appearing in at least 75 games five years in a row from 2002-03 through 2006-07.
He most definitely is an important figure in the history of the franchise, and should be honored in some way. Perhaps being a charter member of the team’s Hall of Fame, or maybe a ring of honor at Quicken Loans Arena. Just don’t retire his number.
This stance really has nothing to do with Ilgauskas. The problem is retiring a player’s number is the biggest honor a retired player can get, outside of making the sport’s Hall of Fame.
And that honor should be reserved for players who have claimed the ultimate prize, a title.
If the Cavs retired Z’s #11, he will be the seventh player so honored by the franchise. A team that has won ZERO titles. No championships, but seven players whose jerseys are hanging from the rafters.
No disrespect to Nate Thurmond, an Akron native who is one of the sport’s all-time greats, but he played a total of 114 games with the Cavaliers.
Larry Nance is another great player, and has continued to make his home in the Cleveland area, but he played less than half of his career with the wine and gold, never averaging more than 20.0 points per game.
Brad Daugherty played just eight years in the NBA, all with Cleveland, and made five all-star teams. However, he averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds in his career and never got to the NBA Finals.
Mark Price played nine years here, and until recently was the only Cavalier to be named first team all-NBA. Still, Price never scored 20 points per night with the Cavs.
Bobby “Bingo” Smith is honored because he was an original member of the Cavs, and played on the “Miracle of Richfield” team in 1975-76. For all of his contributions to the franchise, he never even made an all-star team.
Only Austin Carr, because of his stature as the face of the team, first as a player and then as an announcer, should have his number hanging from the ceiling of The Q.
If you want to pick a second person, it would likely be a toss-up between Daugherty and Price, both excellent players in Cleveland for a long time.
It isn’t fair to Ilguaskas that the Cavalier organization used retiring jersey numbers as a way to entice people to attend games during the dark days of the franchise.
And it is doubtful that there is anyway to undo a retired number without it being a disgrace to the player who was honored.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas certainly deserves to be honored by the Cavaliers for his contributions and perseverance to the team. Just do it in a way that means more for his place in Cavs’ history than retiring his number.