Retired Numbers | Zydrunas Ilgauskas
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When Wayne Embry and the Cavaliers drafted a skinny seven-footer from Kaunas, Lithuania with the 20th pick in the 1996 Draft, most fans had never heard of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, let alone seen him play.
He missed his first season – undergoing left foot surgery just a few months after being drafted – but began his career as a Cavalier with a bang – netting 16 points and 16 boards in his NBA debut against Hakeem Olajuwon and playing in all 82 games of his “rookie” campaign. Big Z capped a stellar first season, winning MVP honors in the Schick Rookie Game at All-Star Weekend in New York and standing out in a riveting four-game postseason series against Rik Smits and the Pacers.
But over the next three seasons, Ilgauskas was limited to just 29 total games, undergoing another pair of surgeries – this time on his right foot.
But Big Z returned to play in 62 games in 2001-02 and, the following season, he returned to his freshman form, averaging 17.2 points and 7.6 boards per contest – earning the first of his two All-Star appearances, coming off the bench for the East squad in Atlanta.
Over the next eight years, Ilgauskas never averaged less than double-digit scoring and never played less than 64 games – starting 81 games in back-to-back seasons in 2002-03 and 2003-04.
In 2005, Ilgauskas made his second All-Star appearance, joining James in Denver and seeing more action than in his first go-round – going 5-for-8 from the floor for 12 points to go with seven boards and a pair of blocked shots. Later that season, the Cavaliers returned to the playoffs and, one year later, reached the NBA Finals for the first time in Ilgauskas’ career.
Through it all, Big Z continued to rewrite the Wine and Gold’s record book, completing his career in Cleveland as the franchise’s all-time leader in offensive rebounds (2,336), total rebounds (5,904), blocked shots (1,269) and – maybe most importantly – games played, suiting up for 771 games as a Cavalier.
In other all-time franchise marks, Ilgauskas ranks second in minutes played (21,823) and defensive rebounds (3,568), third in free throws made (2,495) and attempted (3,197) and fourth in field goals made (4,045) and attempted (8.523).
Big Z is also one of just four Cavaliers in the 10,000-point club – joining Austin Carr (10,265), Daugherty (10,389) and LeBron James (15,251).
The Cavaliers retired his jersey on March 8, 2014.