The Optimist

Bonjour, y’all! It’s me, “Optimist: Port of Call – New Orleans.”

“Bonjour” is how some of the locals might say “hello.” Down here, they call a “county” a “parish,” they call a “caricature” a “vignette,” and instead of saying “TheBron” they say “LeBron.” I don’t know what they call a Whopper. I didn’t go into Burger King.

On the trip down South, I noticed that the Team Bus seemed a little bit “larger.” Something wasn’t right.

Then I realized that, actually, EVERYTHING was right. Because there he was – sitting in his normal spot, next to the Wild Thing, soaking his gargantuan feet in the beer cooler that everyone was all too happy to drink from.

He is the Large Lithuanian – Zydrunas Ilgauskas. And early Tuesday afternoon, he officially made his rightful return to the Wine and Gold.

Like no other Cavalier – including TheBron – the Big Fella is woven into this community. For the past 13 years, Cleveland has almost become Z’s “Little Lithuania” – the place where he met his wife, Jennifer, and is raising his children. Cleveland is his home. He belongs here.

In terms of wins and losses, the Cavaliers have managed fine without the Big Fella. And Antawn Jamison has been stellar since his acquisition. But there’s been something missing from those wins, and – starting on Wednesday night in the Big Easy – that something will be missing no more.

(On a personal note: I predict good karma for the Washington Wizards. After reading Gilbert Arenas’ interview in GQ, and considering Ernie Grunfeld’s treatment of both Antawn Jamison and Big Z, they have a dose of much-needed good vibrations coming their way. Now, if they’d just lose that stupid “teal” color …)

All these niceties aside, the Cavaliers didn’t make the 1100-mile schlep to New Orleans to drink Hurricanes and wolf down pralines and muffuletta sandwiches. They came here to beat an always-dangerous Hornets team.

Before we get to said victory, I have to do a little housecleaning and really must ask that you readers and writers-in to bring it a little stronger to the old Optimist Mailbox. The pickin’s have been pretty slim lately. I got better letters back in the old 50-win days.

For example, I either get this, from regulars like the obviously unstable Bort Stein …

Dear Optimist-

While Z was away, did he train in the Soviet Union, with Drago? I heard he did.

Bort Stein, Esq.
Parma, OH

… or like this one …


1970. What high school did the Cavs play a preseason game against the Cincinnati Royals? Do you know that they had a local boy be the water boy?

I was that boy.

Reynoldsburg, OH

OK, people.

See what I mean? We’re going to have to start picking it up a little bit. These are not letters befitting the World Wide Web and certainly not an all-powerful site like

You don’t have to look like a white guy from the ‘50s to write in. Just click this link and open your heart.

You can even send your submissions for the All-Nemesis Team – which could easily be manned by one of tonight’s opponents: Marcus Thornton.

The rookie from LSU scored 37 points against the Cavaliers last month at The Q, but it seemed like 137. The kid was completely unstoppable. Which is why no one watching at home in Cleveland should be surprised when he leads all scorers through three quarters tonight.

Despite the emotional lift of Z’s return, the Cavaliers trail through most of the affair. It isn’t until Leon Powe’s fourth-quarter onslaught that Cleveland finds some life.

Leon's getting larger.

Leon continues his reign of terror from Sunday night against Detroit, scoring seven straight points while completely dominating the paint. The previously-flat Cavaliers come alive and take a four-point lead into the closing seconds.

With under a minute to play, Morris Peterson picks Delonte West and looks to have a breakaway dunk to close the gap. But Numeral 23 is lurking, and he crushes Mo-Pete’s attempt.

The Hornets get the ball but Cleveland gets the stop and the win – taking their eighth straight: 104-100.

(Almost) all is right in the world, my friends. Once Shaq recovers from an injured phalange, there will be nothing left to stop the Wine and Gold.

The Larry O’Brien Trophy’s shiny, bulbous head is waiting to be kissed. But only by those who are bold and beautiful enough to …

Keep the faith, Reynoldsburg

Your pal,
The Optimist