Zydrunas Ilgauskas was honored tonight with an excellent halftime ceremony for the retirement of his number 11 jersey. Many stars were on hand for the night, and the Cavs put on a great show, highlighted by a fantastic montage at center court, a great speech from former Cavs GM Wayne Embry, and Z’s outstanding thanks to the city.
The halftime ceremony began with another brilliantly done montage on center court, highlighting the achievements of the Lithuanian big. From his barely-in-English draft interview, to his injury history, to the LeBron era highlights, the montage was really, really cool. It was really great especially for someone like me, who began watching basketball as Z came into the league and grew up with him as the center for some of the more entertaining teams in the league in the mid-00s Cavs. One fascinating moment in particular: the Cavs’ commitment to playing clips of Ilgauskas interviews, even though the guy never really figured out the English language during his playing days. It made for some fun moments.
After Z made his way onto the court, and a host of Cleveland legends were announced, including Wayne Embry, George Gund, Larry Nance, Nate Thurmond, and Bingo Smith. Dan Gilbert also got introduced and didn’t get booed, which was slightly surprising. Wayne Embry gave the keynote, regaling the crowd with a brief story of the decision to draft Ilgauskas. Embry lauded Ilgauskas for his character, persevering through multiple injuries to have a productive career, and for his class, representing the organization and the city with great pride during his tenure. Embry definitely hit the nail on the head with this speech, a brief encapsulation of basically everything.
Gilbert got up next and had a speech a little filled with clichés, but this was mostly a good speech. Two big highlights here: First, Gilbert mentioned that Ilgauskas became an American citizen last week, which is great to hear, especially as Z will likely have a big part in the Cavs’ front office moving forward. Bo Churney of HawksHoop.com responded with this outstanding photoshop:
American citizen Zydrunas Ilgauskas pic.twitter.com/ClgDcLA9UU
— Bo Churney (@bochurney) March 9, 2014
Second, Gilbert gave a subtle jab to the current Cavs (who were down eight points at that point to the Knicks) saying “How about we get a win tonight for Z?” as if to coax the Cavs, who at that point had come back onto the floor, to actually play with a pulse. Nicely done.
Z then was presented with a game-worn jersey, and it was time for the main man to give his speech. Z made it known right away that his speech was not prepared, which was strange, but great. “This is me,” he calmly stated, which was a great way to begin. The speech itself was filled with many thanks, as something like this usually is, but one moment stood out. His thanks to Mr. Gund, who was the owner who drafted him, featured a discussion of Z’s injuries, and to summarize, he dropped one of my favorite quotes of the night:
Z: “Thank you Mr. Gund for never giving up on a skinny Lithuanian kid … who spent more time on crutches than he did his own two feet.”
— Jason Lloyd (@JasonLloydABJ) March 9, 2014
It was a great, heartfelt speech, and the crowd ate it up as we all knew they would. Afterwards, Z’s jersey number was raised to the rafters by way of a giant button that Z’s kids got to hit, a random and awesome moment. The jersey went to the rafters, and a simple, yet excellent, ceremony came to a close.
Really, this ceremony was perfectly done by the Cavs. The on-court montage was amazing, the speakers were great, and you could tell Ilgauskas loved the treatment he received from the team and from the fans. Gilbert didn’t overstep his bounds, as owners sometimes do at these things, and Ilgauskas had a great but simple speech. It was also nice to see that the big issue everyone had with the night, LeBron’s presence, was a non-factor on the night. It’s almost as if worrying about LeBron interrupting things was never an issue. All in all, the Cavs honored one of their legends with a great showcase, the way they always seem to do. Thanks for everything, Z, and I hope that you enjoyed your evening.