Over the course of the LeBron James era, Zydrunas Ilgauskas was likely the fan base’s most beloved Cavalier. His perseverance through chronic and career-threatening foot problems to become an all-star caliber center made him a fan favorite in this town. It also helped that he had spent his entire career here and grew up in front of us at Gund Arena shortly after his arrival from Lithuania. He always seemed to understand his place in the community and was happy to come of age in Cleveland. Brian Windhorst extolled his off-the-court gestures and reputation as his inbox was flooded with notes of appreciation when Z was dealt at the deadline this past February. His class and awareness of his standing in the community were on display again today. Big Z took out an ad in this morning’s Sunday Plain Dealer and expressed his appreciation for Cleveland and Cavaliers’ fans while also asking for understanding going forward as he plays out his career elsewhere.
When I came to this country 14 years ago, I was a young man who barely spoke the language and had no idea what to expect of this great country.
As I look back on those early days, I realize how lucky I was to have grown up in a place like Cleveland. All of you have taught me the importance of family and friends; of pulling together to get things done; of loving your country.
I’ve never felt as proud as when I’ve pulled on the wine and gold and stepped onto the court.
I’ve tried my best to return that support by playing as hard as I could each and every game.
The decision to play for Miami was not an easy one to make for either myself or my family.
But as I enter the last few years of my career, I felt I owed it to myself and my family to chase my dream of winning an NBA championship.
I hope you understand.
I also hope you realize that Cleveland will always be home to me.
With love and appreciation,
Zydrunas “Z” Ilgauskas
Some have been angered by Z for picking Miami as the destination to “take his talents.” Rick wrote an exceptional piece last month on Z and loyalty that is worth revisiting. His decision to join the Heat presents an obvious conflict for sports fans in Northeast Ohio. I think most of us wish him well and would like to see him succeed. The desire to see his team fail and fail miserably, however, would seem to outweigh any personal feelings towards Z. That is an unfortunate conflict but certainly understandable. The note is a classy gesture and one that will certainly ensure that the bridge between Z and Cleveland fans remains strong as opposed to conflagration set by his Heat teammate this summer.
(Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)