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Sports


The bond that ties two former Cavs stars
Former Cavs star LeBron James is expected to make an appearance at Zydrunas Ilgauskas's jersey retirement 
by WKSU's AMANDA RABINOWITZ


Morning Edition Host
Amanda Rabinowitz
 
When the Cavs had reached the 2007 NBA Finals, LeBron James immediately ran into Ilgauskas' arms.
Courtesy of John Kuntz, The Plain Dealer
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Two former Cavaliers stars may briefly reunite in Cleveland this weekend. LeBron James says he might make an appearance when the Cavs retire the number 11, worn by 7-foot center Zydrunas Ilgauskas for 12 seasons. WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says the veteran Z took rookie superstar LeBron under his wing in 2003. And that bond remains.   

LISTEN: Terry Pluto on Z and LeBron reuniting in Clevleand

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Terry Pluto says there's a photo that captures the bond LeBron James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas shared: "After they beat Detroiti n 2007 in the Eastern Conference finals, LeBron runs across the court and almost like bear hugs Ilgauskas. And that was the first player he ran to. I think it was because he knew Ilgauskas was with them for all the bad years. Z had been in the league for seven years when LeBron showed  up.”

An unlikely bond
In many ways, Pluto says it was an odd pairing. A soft-spoken, humble 7-foot-1 Lithuanian and a 6-foot-8 19-year-old from Akron who was crowned King James at an early age.

“It’s something that probably doesn’t happen except perhaps in the military or sports, where people are thrown together. That’s one thing that sports does in a lot of ways; it really does cut through a lot of the racial lines because the bottom line is, ‘Can you play or not?’”

Pluto says LeBron grew up watching Z play “play on all these bad Cavalier teams” and he seemed to want a championship for Ilgauskas as much as for himself.

Quest for a title
But the Cavs never won one while LeBron and Z were paired on the court in Cleveland. Nor did the Miami Heat win a title in the one year Ilgauskas joined LeBron there.

Pluto says that “was kind of a miserable year for Z. Z found out he didn’t like the whole Miami/Southbeach scene. He used to say, ‘Take this the right way: Cleveland feels like home, like Lithuania.’ … Of course it’s an ethnic town and an industrial – somewhat -- place so he was very comfortable here.”

Returning to Cleveland
Today, he’s a Cavs special assistant. And he and LeBron still talk a couple times a month.

“LeBron has very good feeling about a lot of the people he played with here. None of that, by the way, is an indication that he’s going to come back here as a free agent. But I think to him loyalty to Z and a few other guys is important.”

And that’s why he may be in Cleveland to celebrate Ilgauskas’ big night.

In the long-term, Pluto advises, “waiting for LeBron is not really good for the Cleveland psyche.”

Hoping for a warm reception
Still, he hopes Clevelanders cheer for LeBron  if he does come because  the night is about Z, and I know to Z this means a ton that the greatest player in the world now, four-time MVP, would want to come back for his night. That’s a tremendous tribute.”

As for Z, Pluto says he and Cleveland fit.

“The thing about Cleveland fans, you don’t have to be a superstar to be loved. If you’re loyal and pretty good and you want to actually stay here and say nice things about the people here, they embrace you.”

Terry Pluto on Browns free agency
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Terry Pluto on what he likes from Indians spring training
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