You meet all kinds of people in professional sports, just as you do in any other aspect of our lives. The only difference is that these men are extremely talented athletically, as well as far richer than most folks can even fathom being. In over a decade of being in the locker rooms after games involving the Browns, the Indians and the Cavaliers as well as their respective opponents, I got a different perspective of sports stars than most people will ever have. There are some truly admirable people that I have met along the way; as well as some men that I wanted to get away from the sooner the better.
Different players handle adversity in their own fashion. Each of has a different threshold of pain, what you may find excruciating may just be an annoyance to me; where as another injury could have the opposite effect on both of us. We all have different work ethics as well; we have all seen cases of players not working hard enough to recover from an injury as long as they are still receiving that big money from that signed contract.
If anyone had an excuse to just collect the money and sit back without feeling guilty, it may have been center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The man’s first few seasons in the Association were dominated by injury and severe pain. Nobody would have blamed him had he refused to have another operation, Ilgauskas had a series of them in order for doctors to reshape his feet and allow him to play not only pain-free; but without the constant worry that one of his feet could break at any time during a game.
However he did go through the painful process, and it did pay off for the Lithuanian native. Zydrunas would be named to the Eastern Conference NBA All-Star team twice, and also played in two NBA Finals; one with the Cleveland Cavaliers and one with the Miami Heat this past season.
Earlier this summer, the 36-year-old big man exercised his option to stay with Miami for the upcoming campaign. However he has a change of heart according to the “Cleveland Plain Dealer” as they have reported that the veteran center has decided to retire rather than go through the rigors of another NBA campaign.
Last Friday, the veteran big man announced his decision to reporters at the opening of a physical therapy center, outside of Cleveland that his wife is in charge of. Ilgauskas told members of the media “Enough is enough. My body is beat up and I’m tired physically. There is no age limit, but everyone knows when it’s time. I want to spend more time with my family. I have spent the past 15 years living out of a suitcase. It’s time.”
The center played through some of the worst times as well as in some of the most important games in the franchise’s history. Going through an era when there seemed to be a turnstile set up at the front door of the office of the head coach, as well as a revolving cast of teammates made for some very ugly nights for the Cavaliers. However, Ilgauskas remained stoic, never publicly complaining or asking for a trade to a contending club. The tough times just made his last five years with the team, when Cleveland had turned back into a contender in the Association that much sweeter.
Ilgauskas told reporters “There are so many great memories here, and I was lucky to play in one place for so long. . . . The early disappointments made the winning that much better. I really enjoyed those years, but I would tell the young guys not to take anything for granted. We made those trips to the playoffs and had all those national TV games, but nothing lasts forever. I was there when the arena was empty. I can appreciate the whole experience now.”
Zydrunas Ilgauskas was not fortunate enough to win an NBA Title during his career, and there has to be disappointment for him to leave the hardwood without winning the ultimate prize. However, when ever I will look back at the career of the two-time NBA All-Star, what will remain with me is he left it all out on the court, every time he laced up his sneakers.