Z is Up…But Who in Cleveland is Next?

Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Three Points!The news that Zydrunas Ilgauskas will have his number 11 retired by the Cleveland Cavaliers coming up in March has been met mostly with praise for fans in our fair city. Outside of our bubble, others may look up and say “Zydrunas Ilgauskas? Really? Was he really that great of a player?”

Retired numbers have different meanings and a different view depending on the angle you choose to gaze at them from. The San Antonio Spurs have retired the number 12 of Bruce Bowen. Sure, Bowen was a big part of multiple championships, but he was a role player and defensive stalwart. Outside of Texas, I’m sure there are plenty of basketball fans who think that is a real stretch. The Dallas Mavericks have two retired numbers – one of which is the number 15 of Brad Davis, he of the 12 years and 8.2 points per game from the guard position. I look at that and say “are you kidding?” But old time Mavs fans will tell you how much Davis meant to the franchise.

I could go on and on.

To me, there is no question Big Z deserves to have his jersey hang from the rafters of Quicken Loans Arena. He spent 13 years in Cleveland (played in 12), leaving as the all-time team leader in games played, rebounds and blocked shots, second in points. That alone would be worth consideration, but the two-time All-Star has meant so much to the organization and the community itself. Z is also one of the finer gentlemen to ever put on the Wine and Gold (as well as the power blue, neon orange and black!).

The Cavaliers will soon have seven retired numbers – Bingo Smith (7), Austin Carr (34), and Nate Thurmond (42) from the early years, Mark Price (25), Larry Nance (22), and Brad Daugherty (43) from the Lenny Wilkens/Wayne Embry era. Now Z will join that distinguished club. Of that group, you could make an easy argument against Thurmond, who played in Cleveland for just two seasons and 93 total games. He was a big part of the “Miracle of Richfield,” which is the reason for his inclusion.

The Indians retire uniform numbers, the Browns have a Ring of Honor. With all of this back and forth over Ilgauskas’s credentials for inclusion, I started to think about the future and who else who be honored by our local professional teams. For conversation sake, I am only speaking of players who are no longer playing here. So throw out Kyrie Irving for example. The discussion for the following players will come up in the years to come.

Clay Matthews – The last Browns player who joined the Ring of Honor was Ozzie Newsome. Ozzie was a first ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest at his position to ever play the game. But what about his 1978 draft class-mate? Clay was the heart and soul of the Browns defense for 16 years where he was a beast and arguably the best Linebacker in team history. Like Z, his longevity, quality play, and gentlemanly demeanor all add up to his selection to the Browns Ring of Honor a no-brainer to me.

Bernie Kosar – I mean, the man is “The Lord” after all. To this day, Browns fans clamor for him to run out of that tunnel one last time, wearing old #19, and bring back the glory days. He was the QB of my youth and watching him play was a treat. The thinking man’s QB led the Browns to three AFC Title games in four years, the first of which came when he was 23. That just didn’t happen right away in the 1980’s with young QBs. Played eight years here and the team hasn’t been the same since his unceremonious release in 1993.

Omar Vizquel – Of all of the “Era of Champions” players that came and went, Omar was perhaps the most popular of them all. He will end up a Hall of Famer thanks to his golden glove and is viewed as one of the top two defensive shortstops in baseball history. His charisma went a long way with the fans here and he has always wanted to be a part of the organization. Played 11 seasons here, the first of which coincided with the opening of Jacobs Field, 1994. I think he is the next Cleveland athlete to receive the honor of having his number retired.

Jim Thome – This is a hot button issue for many here in Cleveland. I am a staunch defender of Gentleman Jim who grew up in the organization from a 20-year old skinny third baseman who became a power hitting legend. After 12 years in Cleveland, he was the all-time leader in Home Runs and a fan favorite. However, the circumstances in which he left for Philadelphia via free agency still don’t sit well with many fans. Not me. The guy had the choice of being the centerpiece of a team trying to buy its way into contention with a new stadium for $16 million more guaranteed and an extra year or take a back-loaded deal to stay in a rebuild, continue to lose and eventually be traded.

His return to Cleveland at the end of the 2011 season seemed to help heal some of those hard feelings. The Indians also announced there will be a statue of him in Heritage Park. I think once he gets into the Hall of Fame, his number will be retired.

Kenny Lofton – From 1992 to 1996 and again from 1998 to 2001, Lofton was the igniter to the best offenses we have ever seen in this town. Kenny hit for high average, played gold glove defense (three), and ran the base paths like a mad man (led the AL in steals five times). One of the most indelible images in Tribe history was Lofton scoring from second on a wild pitch in game six of the 1995 ALCS against Randy Johnson in Seattle’s Kingdome. He came back again in 2007 and gave the Indians a shot in the arm on their way to their first ALCS appearance since 1998. The last time he was ever on base in his illustrious career, he was being held at third by Joel Skinner in Game Seven in Boston. Kenny is a close call here, but probably stays as an Indians Hall of Famer and not someone who’s number gets retired.

Victor Martinez – A tough call, as Victor only played in parts of eight seasons in Cleveland, but he was a key core member of the group that saw the mid 2000’s Indians return to prominence. He made three All-Star games here and hit .297/.369/.463 and drove in over 100 runs three times. Victor was a born and raised member of the organization who shed tears when he was dealt to Boston at the trade deadline in 2009. One of the more popular players in Indians history. I think he is a long shot though.

LeBron James – Yeah. I said it. Love him or hate him, he is the greatest player to ever wear the Wine and Gold. We all hated how he left, but there is zero doubt he gave the fans of Cleveland the best moments the franchise has ever seen.Nobody can deny his greatness on the court, not to mention the impact he had on the organization and the city itself when he played here. Keeping him out of the rafters long term would be a petty move on Dan Gilbert’s part. And make no mistake, if anyone keeps LeBron out, it will be Gilbert and Gilbert alone. Time heals all wounds. Nobody will ever, or should ever, wear #23 again.

Am I missing anyone (other than Phil Dawson of course!)?

  • michaelmayer87

    Alomar brothers?

  • thenoclist

    Albert Belle.

  • 240

    It would be a disaster if LeBron doesn’t get his jersey retired. Was, is, will be the best to ever put on the Cavalier uniform.
    But he won’t be next because of timing. Retire Thome and Vizquel. Spread them out revolving around their HOF inductions. If you think about it, who will be the next guy after them to have it done?
    Agree with Bernie too. Especially because the Browns won’t be adding any modern player (99 and beyond) to that ring in a long long long time (probably Joe Thomas).

  • SteveKnicks

    Josh Gordon

  • Evan Shanley

    I really think you also have to consider Manny Ramirez too. I think he was the greatest hitter we’ve ever seen in Cleveland. He was incredible.

  • MrCleaveland

    If the Browns are not going to retire the numbers of 12 of their Hall of Famers, they can’t very well retire the number of anyone who is not in the Hall. Put Bernie, Clay, and/or Gary Collins in the ring of honor, but their numbers have to live on.

    As for the Tribe, I could live with retiring Omar’s No. 13, but not Thome, Manny, Belle, or anyone else from that era.

    The Cavs should retire No. 23, explaining that they never, ever want to saddle another player with the number of a dirtbag who dumped on Cleveland the way James did. So raise 23 to the rafters upside down with no name attached to it.

  • Bernie and Clay for sure. I’d throw Brian Brennan in there, but that’s just me. Omar, Kenny, and Thome should all be retired, with one condition for Thome: no statue. Albert Belle deserves to be in the discussion at the very least. And LBJ should and will happen one day. No need to rush it though.

  • Guy

    The Indians seem to take retired numbers pretty seriously. I’d guess that Omar is the only one who gets the honor any time soon. The fact that they’re giving Thome a statue for some dumb reason makes me think maybe they’ll do it for him too, but I’d really be against that.

    If LeBron ever comes back here, retiring his number is a no-brainer. If he doesn’t, I don’t think it should be retired. It’s the opposite of the Z situation. LeBron’s an incredible player but a villain in this city. We should not honor him that way.

  • Harv 21

    I think you’re analyzing this retired number thing in an extremely unsophisticated way, TD. Some orgs do it for lifetime achievements that few outside the city recognize; some desperate team PR hacks do it to get lost fan attention. Thurmond, like Bingo, had his number retired because the Cavs were awful and the FO wanted something, anything, to play on fan nostalgia. Thurmond was a tough back-up who started after an injury in a playoff run where they won just one series before losing in the conference finals (woo! Miracle!). He played limited minutes before that and did little the next season. Imagine the Tribe retiring Giambi’s number right now and you get the picture. Bingo? Please, a more affable version of World B. Free, a conscience-free ball hog who thought a quality possession was any one where he took a shot..

    Bowen was in SA for years and was a glue guy in the Finals and getting actual rings. The Spurs don’t need Bowen up there as a desperate ploy for fan attention. Zydrunas here? Guess it’s fringe ok only because of the poor company he will keep in the rafters. Would the Cavs have gone to the Finals without him? Probably. Still not sure why the Cavs feel the need to do it. I guess if nice guy Mike Sanders had a long career here he’d be up there too.

  • ThatAlex

    Candidates for Indians hall of fame (Sandy moreso than Robbie, as Robbie had his best years in other organizations), but I don’t think either will have their jersey retired.

  • yup

    I think there’s a good chance Anderson gets his number retired.

  • boomhauertjs

    Maybe the Cavs should retire #23 in honor of Michael Jordan like the Heat did…wow they are the worst…

  • CB Everett

    I think the Browns should retire #3. It has been nothing short of a plague upon our house.

  • Tsunami

    Raising the banner is about paying tribute to what the player meant to the fanbase and the franchise. It’s not about stats at all. In general, longevity and success are going to translate to stats but it’s not a pre-requisite. For this reason, the idea that the Cavaliers should retire LeBron James’ number is ludicrous. Absolutely ludicrous. Art Modell was the Browns owner for 30+ years. They won the 64 championship with him as owner. Should they honor him at the stadium? There’s no denying Bill Belichek’s talent as a coach – should the Browns honor his greatness in some way?
    LeBron James “gave” the city his best moments? Oh how self sacrificing! Thank God he was able to sign that Nike contract before he started playing to help feed his family, cus I’m sure the owners of the franchise and all his fans refused to compensate him for what he “gave” us.
    If LeBron James’ number ever shows up in the rafters before LeBron James fulfills his promise to “not stop” until he brings a championship to Cleveland, it will be a joke.

  • It has to be Kenny Lofton.

    I still think this garbage about putting a statue in center field of Jim Thome (again – IN CENTER FIELD) is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    I think Omar is the only one on this list who is a lock for getting his number retired. He’s the only one you can look at and say “he was one of the best at his position to ever play the game”. I guess if we’re talking DH’s, you can include Thome in that discussion as well, but the way he left will always invoke mixed feelings with the fans. Omar is adored in Cleveland. No baggage, a stellar career, and a likely Hall of Famer.

    Bernie, Clay, and Kenny all deserve team hall of fame/ring of honor induction, but I don’t know that they rise to the level of having their number retired. Same with Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnefield for the Browns, and Sandy Alomar for the Tribe.

    LeBron is a unique situation. Top 5 player of all time in the sport, but many fans will never forgive the way he left (myself included). It will happen eventually, but it will likely be a long time unless he comes back as a player.

  • Kardiac Kid

    Jersey retirements should be for HOF players that played meaningful years for the franchise. While Holmgren was wrong about a lot of things, the intent of the Ring of Honor being for only the elite of the elite was right — and Bernie/Clay were good players (one Pro Bowl for Bernie) that don’t belong in the RoH. Of all the players you listed, only Vizquel, Thome, and LBJ belong (assuming they are inducted into the HOF). Z’s jersey retirement makes the Cavs organization look desperate for warm fuzzies. STOP ACCEPTING AND REWARDING MEDIOCRITY, CLE!!!

  • Steve

    Ilgauskas is the Cavaliers all time leader in games played, second all-time in minutes and points (behind Lebron), and fourth in win shares behind Lebron, Price, and Daugherty. This is a guy who’s going to get his jersey retired. No, this team doesn’t have the history of the Lakers or Celtics, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have guys worth remembering for a long time.

  • Steve

    I’d guess Kosar and Vizquel are the shortlist, with Thome almost certainly already having been chosen with the statue announcement. The departure of Thome was too unceremonious (and a lot of that was on him) and I’m not sure how you can bring in Kosar for a big show considering his current state. Both of these are why I’m a fan of waiting quite a while to actually retire a number, which also helps you avoid situations like Thurmond and Smith.

  • Steve

    Lebron also gave this town some of its best moments. Yeah, the low point stunk, but making the Finals, and some great playoff series for one of the historically worst run franchises in all of sports?

    Yeah, it sucked that he left, and how he left, but sometimes I wonder if so many of these people that are still upset over three years later actually put up with the franchise before Lebron. In 33 years, they won all of four playoff series. Watching Fratello grind out an 80-78 win 45 times a year, maybe sneaking one win (not one series win, just one game) in the first round, and watching Shaun Kemp carry around an extra 40 pounds on his corpse was well above average tide for this franchise.

    It’s awful to get your heart broken like that, but considering the rest of the franchise’s history, I’d take that low just to get the highs again.

  • MF_Falcon

    Under no circumstances should James’ # be retired. There are consequences to actions and the way he disrespected the franchise, the city, and the fans comes with a price. Retiring his # would show a complete lack of self respect by the Cavaliers organization.

  • Steve

    As opposed to respecting what Thurmond and Smith brought to this team? Or pretending that stretch wasn’t far and away the most amazing time to be a Cavaliers fan? Nothing can take away from what I felt watching Lebron turn Arenas into a puddle of goo at the free throw line, just absolutely taking over in the Palace, one of the most hostile places to play, battling with Paul Pierce over multiple long series, or hitting that shot against Orlando. At some point, as old men, we’re going to look back and go “holy s—, those days were fun”

  • MF_Falcon

    I agree that they were fun, but never before had a professional athlete acted in such a manner, and for that there are consequences. Some things you can never take back.

    He could have simply handled his impending free agency the way Sabathia handled his and things could have been very different. He choose to leave how he did and we should choose to never forgive or forget it.

    That is how I feel, unfortunately as more time passes it seems to becoming more of a minority position.

  • The Other Tim

    Derek? Brady? Brian?

  • Steve

    The consequences only hurt us, and made us look petty and vindictive in the process. You know who doesn’t give a damn that Cleveland fans are refusing to enjoy the good parts of Lebron James? Lebron James. He is suffering exactly zero consequences. The only people suffering are the people who look back and just get angry instead of focusing on the fun parts.

  • Harv 21

    “This is a guy who’s going to get his jersey retired.” Well, yeah, so they said. Begs the question of whether they should. He was a often a good player, not very good, miles away from great by anyone’s standards.

    Again, it doesn’t really matter, a team can set the bar however and wherever it wants. If the org demands that there must be monarchs every ten years in the land of the blind, why not the one-eyed man. And again, he certainly contributed as much as Bingo and Nate. But if the bar is warm fuzzies, let’s talk about what a swell guy he is, what a wonderful team representative. Let’s not pretend it’s about basketball excellence.

  • MF_Falcon

    We will just have to agree to disagree on this point.

  • Steve

    “miles away from great by anyone’s standards”

    What is the standard? Ilgauskas’ career 18.5 PER, and 66.3, career win shares, both great numbers, is right there with Price and Daugherty. All three are great players.

  • Steve

    If believing that Lebron James gives a crap about these “consequences” you’re putting on him helps you through the day, I won’t take that away from you.

  • Steve

    There are around 175 retired numbers in the NBA, Ilgauskas is 111th in career PER, and 197th in career win shares, 129th in win shares per 48 mins. Once you account for the fact that he accumulated just about all of that for just one franchise, I’d say he’s pretty easily in the “retired numbers” standard.

    I see you mentioned rings above, but Ilgauskas was far from a reason why the Cavaliers never won rings.

  • Ben Frambaugh

    So all time games played, 2nd in points all time (behind only Lebron). All time leader in blocks and rebounds? What more do you want from a center again?

  • Ben Frambaugh

    Nope, Varejao!

  • Ben Frambaugh

    The problem with “some of the best moments” would like really shortsighted if he never comes back and we ever get back to a championship. We have a lot of very good talent on our team now…and it’s entirely possible that we can get back to the finals with the team as currently constructed.

  • Jason Hurley

    I think that depends on whether Sandy ever gets to manage the Tribe. If he does, and has some success, then yes, I think he’ll make the Indians HOF.

  • I agree. I think you have to put his number up at some point. He’ll be in the HOF and will go down as one of the greatest players if not the greatest and gave us the best team to watch in a while. Now, it probably won’t be as quick as it happened for Z, but maybe four or five years after he’s been retired I’d think the emotional sediment will have settled. Unless something else happens to really put this thing in the toilet.

  • Steve

    That was only this town’s second NBA division win, second time winning a playoff series in consecutive years, and first trip to the Finals. I know we look fondly on the Price/Daugherty teams, but this was the first real great run at the Cavaliers bringing a championship to the city. That’s going to be tough to forget.

  • Ben Frambaugh

    I’m all for admitting how great Lebron (and the whole Lebron Era) was. That being said, he didn’t even play his best years here. Unless he does come back (and soon) then we were nothing more than a stepping stone.

  • turnercr

    Actually look at the stats. Robbie’s best 3 seasons were in Cleveland. I still don’t think he deserves to have his number retired because it was only 3 years. But his best years were here. I actually just had this argument with a freind.

  • turnercr

    As much success as Lebron brought us I’d have to say no to retiring his number. Retiring a number is not only for the team, but for the fans as well. What he did to the fans can’t be forgotten. I don’t want to go to a game in 20 years and see him hanging next to the greats of this franchise. Just my opinion but the fans are important in this decision

  • Steve

    You have to squint pretty hard to find much difference between his last three years in Cleveland and the three since, down to exactly .286 win shares per 48 mins over each period.

    Conference Semis or better for five straight years, that’s a pretty good stone to have.

  • MF_Falcon

    It has nothing to do with what he cares about, I just believe that the level of disrespect he showed the organization, the city, and the fans makes him undeserving of any such honor. Since he doesn’t care then not retiring the # wouldn’t be an issue.

  • Ben Frambaugh

    He gave us a lot of good years. I’ve never denied that. I was tooting the “Lebron is better than Kobe” horn years before most “experts” figured it out. That being said, his best basketball was not played in Cleveland. He is easily playing better all-around basketball now than he did with us.

  • The Doje

    Even if Lebron were to come back and win a championship in cleveland? You have to retire his number, whether or not (if he comes back or not) he was the best cavs player ever