Former Cleveland Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas was humbled by getting his No. 11 jersey retired Saturday.
CLEVELAND -- If the true measure of a man is the amount of lives he touched, then former Cleveland Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas had a more successful NBA career than any stat sheet or record book could say.
On a night where the Cavaliers played host to a team that calls the bright lights of Broadway home in the New York Knicks, the spotlight shined brightest on Ilgauskas, as dozens of people who were a part of his life during his 10 years with the club, and a sellout crowd of 20,562 celebrated as the organization bestowed its highest honor on him.
The Cavaliers recognized Ilgauskas by retiring his No. 11 jersey and hoisting it to the rafters of Quicken Loans Arena alongside the greatest players in the history of the organization, guards Bobby "Bingo" Smith, Austin Carr and Mark Price, forward Larry Nance, and centers Brad Daugherty and Nate Thurmond, as well as former radio broadcaster, Joe Tait.
"It won't completely set in for probably days and months or years from now when I take my kids to the game, grandkids and see that jersey there with a number that will never be worn again," Ilgauskas said. "It's been a really humbling experience to know that this city and this organization feels about me that way. I'm just very thankful.
"In my mind, I always felt like I had not done anything special. All I did was what was asked of me, just come every day to work and try my hardest. Did it always go my way? No, but I tried, so to have this recognition, it's really special."
Although Ilgauskas is considered one of the greatest players in Cavaliers history, the story of his career may have been quite different had it not been for his courage as well as the talent of doctors who helped the 7-foot-3 center overcome severely broken feet during the early part of his career.
Standing at center court while watching his jersey being raised to the rafters, it hit Ilgauskas how fortunate he was to be able to play for 13 seasons in the NBA.
"I remember when I first broke my foot," Ilgauskas said. "I think it was in '97, and I remember sitting in the apartment at Reserve Square almost with tears in my eyes because I didn't think I was going to play again. Coming home, I didn't have a college degree. I have no financial means. I have my mom, dad and sister to take care of.
"You know as well as I do, in the NBA how quick guys get chewed up and spit out and are never heard from again. I could've easily been just a statistic, so I consider myself really lucky, and forget retiring the jersey, just to go through so many years and play so many games. As unlucky as I was in the beginning of my career, I think I caught some luck on the back end of it."
At halftime of Saturday's game, Ilgauskas was introduced to the crowd and walked to center court, where he was joined by his wife, Jennifer, and sons, Deividas and Povilas, as well as his father, mother, sister and brother-in-law. Ilgauskas' mother, father and sister flew in from their hometown of Kaunas, Lithuania for the special event.
"They represent who I am," Ilgauskas said. "My parents raised me and instilled values in me that they believed in. My wife, my boys, that's my life right now. That's what I live for and that's what drives me every day.
"I enjoy being a husband. I enjoy being a father. I enjoy going to their games. I enjoy having a quiet life. I like not getting on the planes every day. I like not getting home at four o'clock in the morning. I like getting a little bit more sleep. Where am I at in my life right now? Just a good, happy place. I found a happy medium and I'm happy with it."
In addition to his biological family, Ilgauskas' extended family of Cavaliers legends joined in the ceremony.
Current owner Dan Gilbert was joined by former owner Gordon Gund and the general manager responsible for bringing Ilgauskas to Cleveland, Wayne Embry. Nance, Smith, Carr, Thurmond and Tait were also on hand to honor Cleveland's all-time leader in rebounds, offensive rebounds, blocked shots and games played.
During the 24-minute extended halftime, the current Cavaliers exited the locker room and took seats along the baseline to watch Ilgauskas deliver an address to the fans.
"He's a special human being, a special night," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "You're thrilled to death to see a guy like that see this done for him. It's great to see his family here, his extended family here. It's great to see all of the people that touched his life throughout his career here. It was a very special moment, and I'm glad I was able to witness it. It was great to be able to be out there and see it."
Following the ceremony, Cavaliers forward Anderson Varejao walked from the baseline and hugged Ilgauskas and his family. It was his way of thanking Ilgauskas for taking care of him when he came to the Cavaliers in a trade with the Orlando Magic in 2004.
"Z is like a brother for me," Varejao said. "Since I got to Cleveland, he took care of me. He took me under his wing. Back then, he was like my dad, but now, he's more like my brother. He's great. I'm very happy for him and for his family. I know how much he loves Cleveland, and what they did for him tonight was special.
"It's great to see. He's going to remember this day forever and me too. I've been here for 10 years and he was great to me when I got here."
After hugging Varejao, Ilgauskas was greeted by many more of his former teammates, including LeBron James, Daniel Gibson, Delonte West, and Anthony Parker, as well as former Cavaliers general manager, Danny Ferry.
"(LeBron) being here is an added bonus for me because of what we've been through together," Ilgauskas said. "I consider him a good friend. We played so much, achieved so much, failed many times, but also, were successful a lot of times. For me, it would've been almost a detraction if he wasn't here. That he was able to witness that makes it that much more special.
"Danny Ferry came to me and said, 'You know, you're the only person that can bring this group together in one room. Nobody else could.' I felt like those people touched my life so much more than I have theirs, so it was just special for them to take time out of their busy schedules and come to this occasion."
To Varejao, seeing the way Ilgauskas was embraced by Cavaliers past and present is a tribute to a man more than it was for a former teammate.
"That tells you a lot about how respectable and how great Z was for everybody," Varejao said. "Everybody loves him and everybody that knows him knows what he is about, which is a hardworking person and a guy with a big heart."