Despite “Official” Indecision, Cavs Will, Should, And Told Kyrie Irving to Pick Another Number So They Could, Retire Big Z’s Number

Zydrunas Ilgauskas Zydrunas Ilgauskas #11 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates a fourth quarter basket against the Washington Wizards in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on April 19, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland won the game 93-86. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported yesterday that, “in spite of reports to the contrary all over the Internet recently, the Cavaliers have not yet officially discussed retiring former center Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ No. 11.”  But in the next line, the report said that it is certain this will happen at some point in the future, and when Kyrie Irving asked if he could wear the number 11, “it was suggested to Irving that No. 11 could be a number that might eventually be retired by the team.  Irving was told “it was so closely tied to Ilgauskas in Cleveland that he might want to select another number that he could make his own.”

The reference to reports all over the Internet could have been to people who referenced the initial report out of China on Sunday like myself, as well as others like my friend Scott who followed up on the second report out of Lithuania a couple days after that.  Regardless – and while it is not official – the Cavs are talking about retiring Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ jersey, and they’re so serious about it that they told the number one overall pick in the NBA Draft to pick another number.  Which all gets me to the actual question of should the Cavs hoist Big Z’s jersey up into the rafters for all eternity anyway?  I only ask because I think when Big Z comes to mind for a lot of people they think: good guy, got hurt for a while, did a heckuva job selling DVD’s in that muppet commercial, and was an alll around pretty good player when healthy.  All of which is true, by the way.  But a deeper look into his career numbers as a Cavalier indicate that he was actually, probably, a way better player than you thought he was.   

The list of numbers retired by the Cavaliers so far includes Bingo Smith, Larry Nance, Mark Price, Austin Carr, Nate Thurmond, and Brad Daugherty.  Longtime radio voice of the Cavaliers, Joe Tait, also had a banner retired to the Quicken Loans rafters this past season for his legendary work behind the microphone as well.  Below are a few reasons why Zydrunas SHOULD be the next in line for such honor, and obviously will at some point in the future.  In summary, he was the best Center – by the numbers – to ever wear a Cavaliers’ uniform.  These three points sum things up nicely:

Cavs All Time Leader for Games Played: Zydrunas Ilgauskas appeared in 771 games as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, which is more than anybody ever played for that organization dating back to its inaugural season in 1970.  He played just about 50 more games than Danny Ferry did, who’s second on the list for appearing in 723, and played better than Danny Ferry in approximately 700 of those games.  I have no beef with Ferry, for the record, but I would have hashtagged that comment with realtalk if I had posted it on twitter because it’s true.  Even though I never hastagged anything with realtalk before.  It’s also true that Bingo Smith, Mark Price, Austin Carr, and Brad Daugherty have their numbers retired currently, and Big Z played 51, 136, 189, and 223 more games than each of those guys did respectively during their times in Cleveland.  He played in more than Larry Nance and Nate Thurmond too, but I didn’t feel like looking up how many games each of those guys played because they aren’t even in the top-10.  A guy plays more games for your team than anybody ever did in 41 years you gotta retire that number.

Cavs All Time Leading Rebounder: Zydrunas grabbed 5,904 total rebounds while he wore a Cavs jersey in Cleveland, which is almost 700 more than the second place Brad Daugherty was able to snag.  Big Z is second to the Nascar Commentator in Defensive Rebounds, but he’s first by a mile in Offensive Boards.  All those tip back’s up onto the offensive glass for second chance points add up.  Which is also why he’s second to only LeBron James in total points scored all time as a member of the Cavaliers as well.  Z scored over 10,600 points during his Cleveland career, and nobody who has his number retired currently is within 200 points of him.  In addition to being second all time in points, he’s also first in Blocked Shots All Time, third in Free Throw Percentage, and first with most fouls ever too.  He was called for 2,591 fouls, which is almost a 1,000 more fouls than any other Cavalier was ever called for.  If that doesn’t add to his street cred, in addition to all that productivity, I don’t know what else could.

He was an All Star, twice: He only played four minutes in the 2003 All Star Game, but he was there; he was the big dude with the full head of floppy hair at the time if you weren’t sure.  He was an All Star again in the 2005 game as well, and scored 12 points in 17 minutes that time, and he probably would’ve been named MVP that night if he got the minutes and touches he deserved too. Two-time All Stars don’t go to the Hall of Fame though, and nobody’s arguing Z should or ever would, but he was a good player for a long time as a member of the Cavaliers and deserves that number put on ice as a result.  People in Cleveland will also argue that he worked through a number of foot injuries as well, but I don’t really believe in giving him credit for that specifically.  He got hurt for a while, rehabbed for a while, and made millions while he was rehabbing.  When he got onto the court he was a more than productive center though, the best Cavs center ever by the numbers, and he was also amongst the best in the league at his position for a few seasons too.  If he didn’t get hurt like he did he might’ve been the next Arvydas Sabonis maybe, but even still he always pretty good for as long as he played in Cleveland.

I didn’t even really want to get into the debate about who the next Cav might be after Z to get his number retired.  I have a feeling that topic will end up going on for a while starting in about 15 years.


About Brendan Bowers

I am the founding editor of I am also a content strategist and social media manager with Electronic Merchant Systems in Cleveland. My work has been published in SLAM Magazine, KICKS Magazine, The Locker Room Magazine,,, and elsewhere. I've also written a lot of articles that have been published here.