NBA / Jul 22, 2010 / 10:15 am

Zydrunas Ilgauskas Leaves A Gaping Hole In Cleveland’s Heart

When I first heard the name Zydrunas Ilgauskas, I laughed. I was about nine years old at the time, and it didn’t really occur to me that people from different countries had names that didn’t sound like mine. But when I saw him play, I was impressed. He wasn’t just a big guy who ran around setting screens and missing opportunities at the rim. He could shoot, pass and above all else, wasn’t afraid to mix it up down low or stand up for his teammates.

I got a chance to see Big Z play in person a couple years ago at a Cavs-Bucks game in Milwaukee, and while LeBron James stole the show by dropping 55 points, my fondest memory was seeing Ilgauskus deliver a forearm to the chest of Charlie Villanueva after Villanueva leveled Z’s teammate Anderson Varejao.

I was sitting with three Cleveland natives at the time, and one commented, “That’s Z for ya. That’s why we love that guy.”

What I came to understand was that my friends didn’t admire Ilgauskus as much for the player he was as they did for what he represented. Z epitomized Cleveland’s blue-collar attitude. He wasn’t going to wow you with slashes to the basket or Olajuwon-like footwork, just like Cleveland won’t dazzle you with skyscrapers or A-list celebrity natives. But he was steady and represented the average player, much the way Cleveland represents the hard-working American who doesn’t get recognized for making the machine part that fuels your car.

Which is why Z leaving Cleveland for the sun-filled beaches and club-going Miami scene just a few days after LeBron did is the ultimate “F**k you” to a city that deserves far better.

I’ve often gotten annoyed with people who read too far into what a made clutch basket or brilliant pass means to a city, because, as cliche as it might be, it is just game.

But Z’s signing is about more than a basketball player changing locations. It signifies many of the negative qualities we see in our daily lives. It shows that loyalty means very little when more lucrative chances present themselves. It shows that as much you might mean to someone, if there’s a more appealing person out there, you will be let go of.

This lack of loyalty may have been expected from James – a guy who grew up rooting for the Chicago Bulls, New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys – but Z’s actions came out of left field. He was supposed to be the guy to say no to an offer like that. He was supposed to be the guy to deliver the hard foul on LeBron next year when he returned to Cleveland. He was supposed to be the guy who said, “These people here love me, and I wouldn’t do anything to betray them.”

But he didn’t.

So now Z will take his bad knees and rugged style to a modern arena that will surely attract the biggest names in film and music next year. But when Ilgauskas takes a charge in the second quarter of a December game against the Nets, the Miami fans won’t be on their feet cheering the way those in Cleveland would have.

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  • John

    Good article

  • jamal

    shut up! you traded him remember! you douche bag. you gave him up for jamison. and man were you guys pumped! now look at you. pathetic and crying over loyalty. you have reason to be mad at lebron, but not Z.

  • Diggity Dave

    Thanks for the backup center. Good luck in the lottery.

  • Max

    I couldn’t disagree more with this article. I’m from Cleveland, and yes, we absolutely LOVE zydrunas. We respect his hard work and resilience through his foot injuries about ten years ago, and we love that he’s stayed here for 14 (?) years. As a Clevelander, I can tell you that NOBODY in Cleveland feels betrayed by Z. We understand we are no longer a contender, and everyone here wants Z to get a ring. Unlike LeBron, he left in a classy manner, thanking ownership and the fans, and even mentioning how he will come back one day and retire a Cavalier (and get his jersey retired, hanging in the rafters, where LBJ’s will never be). I’m glad Z got an article on Dime, but, Clevelanders really disagree with the points presented in this article. Z is a great man, and shouldn’t be lumped with the soul-less brand that is LeBron James.

  • bigslow

    The Cleveland front office didn’t show him any loyalty. He owed them none.

  • The Journeyman

    yeah Z was done grimey by being sent to a suffering Wizards team

    he wants a ring and should get one in Miami

  • vince

    Yeah, Z was everything for Cleveland. Thats why they shipped his ass last year.

  • Trevor Kapp

    Jamal- by the way, I’m from NYC and have never been to Cleveland. I have no loyalty to the Cavs–just callin it as I see it.

  • kc2chu

    This is funny how Cavs traded Z, and is complaining that he is still that it happened. This is purely business, so F off.

  • KN

    I respectfully disagree. What LeBron did was terrible, yes, but Z has earned this right. Besides, lets face the truth – without Lebron the Cavs are a rebuilding team. They need to get younger, and Z would just get in the way of that. Remember that Cleveland is still his home, and he wants to come back to the team after his time as a player is done.

    If he wants to go to Miami to try and win a ring before then, let him go. Of course, I won’t root for them to win because of Lebron, but I and most of Cleveland agrees that Z is still very much liked.

    Plus, we DID trade him. And Mike Brown did him a disservice by not playing him in the game where he was supposed to become the Cavs’ all-time leader in games played. Am I sad to see him go? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t loyal. He stayed here for 14 years, most of that through injuries where he could’ve just taken the money and ran. But he didn’t, so we have no reason to be mad at Z.

  • Boom DIzzle

    This article is absolutely absurd.

    -DO keep in mind the Cleveland Cavaliers organization did Z dirty by trying to ship him off to the Wizards, which he obviously didn’t take do lightly and needed the convincing of LEBRON JAMES to get him to return.

    Also, Z is in the twilight stages of his basketball career. As an NBA player, your goal and crowning achievement is winning the NBA title. My point is, if an opportunity presents itself to achieve the most that you can achieve before your career comes to a close, no matter what the profession, you are most likely going to go that route. I certainly don’t blame Z for what he did. If anything, Cleveland fans are damn selfish for trying to decide what is RIGHT from the perspective of Z. He deserves the right to want to achieve what he most certainly can’t achieve in Cleveland and that is to win an NBA Championship.

    -Last, but certainly not the least, Z is signing for the verteran’s minimum with the Miami Heat. It clearly isn’t about the money or the glamour is it is about winning a title, which should be every player’s goal before their respective career’s come to a close.

    Props to Z, Cleveland can go F itself.

  • Abe504

    LOL This whole Miami Team is basically the N.W.O from wrestling back in the day, this offseason has bee hilarious

  • DH

    I think Noah put it best when he said, “What’s so great about Cleveland?”

  • YeaEyeCEDit

    Cleveland fans should be put on suicide watch!! They will forever have a black cloud around their sports teams. There was a little light in sight for Clevelanders, but it was soon shut by the arms of Z-man and Le(God) James…SMDH I kinda feel bad for em. Eh oh well, Hope Ohio St., and the Cincy Reds continue to do work

  • high release

    Haha, I was at that game too. Varejao was the real culprit, of course. I think Z was kicked out for that.

    The thing that gets to me is that Miami doesn’t deserve to have this team. They have like 50 real fans, and the rest are scene-chasers and Anna Kournikovas. Where’s that “white hot” garbage been the last few years? Oh, right.

    Wade is cool, though.

  • http://thesphericalstudies.blogspot.com Professor J

    The problem with Cleveland fans is that they bought into the whole “We are cleveland and lebron james is the hometown boy” pr blitz that the Cavaliers put out there.

    Just like Lebron, Big Z doesn’t owe any allegiance to the fans or people of Cleveland. The man plays basketball and only should care about his own career and legacy. Also, great point that people made that he was traded last year. You can’t trade a guy, and ok you got him back, but you can’t trade him and then whine when he leaves for real!

    Cleveland fans, please stop whining about people leaving your team. The reason they left was because the Cavs front office did little to secure a championship. And I don’t want to hear “Well Antawn is great! so is Mo he was an All-star! Lebron wanted these guys, not the Cavs front office”. The Cavaliers and their fans cannot put the blame on Lebon or Big Z for leaving. Just grow up.

  • dukesman2000

    Right about now, I am sick and tired of hearing about Lebron and Z “leaving a hole in Cleveland’s heart.” Are you fucking kidding me? These guys are basketball players people, they are not elected officials. Politicians are sending this country and the world to hell with gasoline drawers on and we are getting mad at athletes who choose to play somewhere else. Cleveland is not Lebron’s or Z’s responsibility, they are entertainers. They entertain. How about we start talking about who really played a role in devastating Cleveland and cities across America? Dan Gilbert, the former CEO of Quicken Loans who was the architect in the mortgage loan sharking business. That’s right! Dan Gilbert did not get the alias, “Subprime Dan” for helping minorities realize the American Dream. He exploited people and now Cleveland has one of the highest foreclosures rates in the country. Let’s talk about that. And what baffles me is that “loyalty” only seems to apply to players and not the organization. How many times have we seen organizations throw players off teams like “old pizza boxes,” as you’ve so eloquently stated? Where is the loyalty there? Lebron gave Cleveland 7 years of his professional career and don’t forget, he did re-sign with them. Now it is time to move on. Give me a break! That is the problem with this society; we get into the parent mode, acting as if we know what is right for others. Lebron did what he felt was right and we should all respect that.

  • http://uoregon.edu sans

    I’m from Cleveland and nobody’s mad at Z….he’s the only reason to like the heat…he gave us 14 yrs and both his feet…and he wasn’t done dirty in the Twon Trade (That Shouldn’t Have Happened)–he was in on it and knew he’d be bought out.

    Really, I’m not that mad at Bron…he’s a grown man and could do what he wants…the cavs should have told Miami to F off witht hat sign-n-trade nonsense and had Bron only get his 5 years….this article was awful and was completely unfounded, maybe the writer should have spoken with his “3 Cleveland Natives” before stepping to the keyboard…

  • http://uoregon.edu sans

    AnD I Agree with whoever talked ish about Gilbert–he’d shank you then raise your adjustable rate on your mortgage while tapping your daughter…just can’t trust the motherf^cker…

  • sh!tfaced

    Great write up on Z. The man deserves it… wish him all the best…

    But who caressssssss… The respect and love for Z, for all those years he gave to Cleveland ain’t standing up to the raging hate they have for “local boy” LeDouche… LOL

  • sweetv0mit

    Stupid article

  • Sporty-j

    Man why dont they just go jump off of a cliff in Cleveland in thats the case. First they worship Lebron James like a GOD and now they think hes the DEVIL. Leaving in Cleveland is like being in prison and who the hell wants to go bowling every night, as whats popping in Cleve-Town tonight. Like i said the other day. You have 1 life to live and you cant try living your life to impress everybody while your really miserable inside. The man has lived there for 25 freaking yrs and does not care about chasing the Jordan legacy obviously and just wants to have as much fun before he dies 1 day like all of us r going to do and what better way to do that than with the people that matter to you must(Your family and his best friend DWade). There chasing the dream of being the best Team to ever play the game which i thought this game was suppose to be about instead of chasing the dream of being known as the GOAT. If your going to root for a person or be there friend. Be it thru thick and thin and respect his DECISION. Z wants a ring before he retires 1 day also and he felt Miami was the best place for him to achieve that goal. After these Owners use you up like a slave and get all the money they can out of you they dump you once you get old like they did big Z and thats y you cant get BUSSINESS mixed up pleasure because at the end of the day its a bussiness.

  • superfreak

    retarded article. way to bench him on the day he was gonna set a team record and trade him away then tell the world you now love him

    would you still want your job at dime if u got fired and they asked you to come back even though your boys went to slam would be a lot happier there?

  • http://deleted dagwaller

    Agree with the author. I’ve been a Z fan for longer than LeBron’s been in the League, and the only reason this move wasn’t/shouldn’t be more publicized is because Z is way over the hill and won’t be NEARLY the force he was for Cleveland. Weird, I’ve never felt bad for Cleveland before, but this is kinda crappy.

  • S-SiN

    Wake up dumb-ass it’s 2010!

    What you’re talking about is, well, bullshit to say the least.

  • Matt ‘T2′ Tuckett

    If the Cavs did the ‘right thing’ and hadn’t traded Z last season, he wouldn’t have left!

  • Jon

    I’m sorry, but this is absolute nonsense. Big Z is barely even effective any longer as a role player off the bench. He’s given 12 years, his knees, and the best basketball he could conceivably squeeze out of himself to Cleveland. He gave his prime to a series of teams that were by and large profoundly awful.

    He has, maybe, two years left in the tank. Maybe.

    If Cleveland fans want to begrudge Big Z, of all people, then they never deserved to have LeBron come back in the first place.

  • http://thesphericalstudies.blogspot.com/2010/07/lebron-james-is-not-jesus.html haslem

    nice, deep, I like.

  • http://facebook.com/togstadlives Jeremiah Togstad

    Loyalty? In the NBA? Good luck finding that. However you look at it, the NBA is a business. When a player is a free agent in this business, he should be able to work wherever he wants. Hence the term “FREE agent.”

    I’m tired of hearing about this loyalty garbage. Cleve is the team that shipped out Big-Z. They’re reaping what they sewed now. The city of Cleveland is a pit of depression and heartbreak. So why would any marquee player want to play there? Cleveland is at the bottom on the list of appealing cities.

  • hadoken

    dukesman2000 is hitting it right on the head. dan gilbert is a douche and deserves the pile of shit he’s receiving right now. cleveland had 7 years of lebron. be thankful that you even got that you ungrateful bitches. i don’t understand why people are so easy on old worn out vets trying to chase a ring and are bashing lebron for doing the same thing while still in his prime. people should be congratulating lebron for being a visionary and realizing that he doesn’t want to waste the best years of his career trying to carry a mediocre team. partying and living the dream with 2 other superstars in miami is def the way to go.

  • kingralf

    surpisingly stupid article

  • Stunnaboy09

    I think no one actually feels betrayed by Big Z;

    First of all he ran his course with the Cavs, they traded for Shaq, benched him, didn’t play him when he was suppose to break the record and traded him. They fucked with him the most. He’s been there 14 years ad played his heart out never quitting or complaining. Since LeBron left and Byron Scott said they doing run and gun Z would only get in their way.

    Also after you reach 32 and start to decline your body should be focused on getting a ring, which is PURELY what Big Z did. Not to go play with friends. He took the minimum. Ain’t about money. I’m almost sure if he wins this year, he goes back to Cleveland for hsi retirement tour. And his jersey gets retired. Up where LeBrons will never be.

  • Guitar Hero

    It’s IlgauskAs, not IlgauskUs.
    Jeez.

  • Cru_thik305

    Man, its rough being a cavs fan right now

  • stumpy

    pretty ridiculous argument since Cle traded him, as previously stated, and I remember one particular instance last season when he was set to play a milestone game (cavs leader in games played?) and had many friends and family there to mark the occasion.. and they sat him out the whole game.

  • danny

    It’s still like you’re 9 years old, author.

  • AirKaris

    worst article i have ever read on dime.

    cry baby attitude of cleveland that i’m beginning to get sick of.

    move on.

  • Browns Forever

    This is the worst article ever.

    Z Bo doesn’t owe this franchise anything.
    He got traded and sat by the coach for the game that he was going to become the Cavs all time leader in games played.

    I’m surprised that this type of garbage gets published by dimemag.

    You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

    Truly.

  • http://what.com yah

    get outta here with this bullshit,he wasnt SUPPOSED to do anything….HE was supposed to do what HE wanted to do,not base his decision on a buncha losers in cleveland that have no self esteem….

  • http://lebastards.blogspot.com ngoogs

    Not trying to spam, but I think I summed up the typical Cleveland-fan’s reaction to this in a blog post on LeBastards….

    http://lebastards.blogspot.com/2010/07/tribute-to-z.html

  • Ian

    Get a job punk ass bitch