Ilgauskas overcame serious injuries and personal tragedy to become one of the Cavaliers’ best and most beloved players.
At the ceremony in attendance were his wife, Jennifer, and their adopted sons, Deividas and Povilas, along with his parents, friends, former Cleveland Cavs owner Gordon Gund, as well as former teammate Lebron James, and former Cavs players Larry Nance, Austin Carr and Walt Frazier.
Ilgauskas became the seventh player in team history to receive the honor, joining Austin Carr, Nate Thurmond, Bobby “Bingo” Smith, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty and Mark Price in having his number raised to the rafters of Quicken Loans Arena.
Lebron James, who was invited by Ilgauskas, said that the 7’3 gentle giant was “probably one of the most talented guys I ever played with”. Ilgauskas said it was “special” to have James in attendance.
“There was some talk leading up to everything. The way I looked at it, if he wasn’t able to make it, that’s OK. I wanted to extend the invitation,” he said, according to the (Cleveland) Plain-Dealer.
“But him being here is an added bonus for me because of what we’ve been through together. I consider him a dear friend, and we played so much, achieved so much, failed many times but also were successful a lot of times. For me, it would have been almost a detraction if he wasn’t here. Now that he was able to witness that made it so much more special,” he said, according to the newspaper.
Ilgauskas thanked everyone he could during his speech.
“Thank you for not giving up on a skinny kid from Lithuania,” he said to Gordon Gund, and then saluted Cleveland fans.
“Thanks for giving me a place I can proudly call home,” said Ilgauskas, who recently became a U.S. citizen.
Moments later, his jersey was raised slowly toward the ceiling as U2’s “Beautiful Day” filled the sold-out arena.
Ilgauskas was a first-round draft choice by the Cavs in 1996, the 20th player taken overall, and the second taken that night by the Cavs, who drafted current assistant coach Vitaly Potapenko with the No. 12 pick.
Ilgauskas, a shy, slender center from Lithuania, had just turned 21 and would lose the upcoming season with foot problems that would plague him the first five years of his pro career.
The 7-3 Ilgauskas was a 2-time NBA All-Star, and he played 12 seasons in Cleveland, averaging 13.8 ppg and 7.7 rpg. He also played one season for Miami Heat, before retiring in 2011, and joining Cavs’ front office in January 2012.
Injury-plagued Ilgauskas played 843 NBA games (724 started), averaging 13.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 1.6 bpg in 27.2 mpg.
Ilgauskas became the seventh Cavalier to have his number retired, and the first since Mark Price’s No. 25 in 1999. Other players so honored include Nate Thurmond (42), Bingo Smith (7), Austin Carr (34), Larry Nance (22) and Brad Daugherty (43).
Ilgauskas finished his NBA career as Cleveland’s all-time franchise leader in games played (771), total rebounds (5,904), offensive rebounds (2,336) and blocked shots (1,269) while ranking second in points scored (10,616).Follow @exnbadotcom
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