- Associated Press - Saturday, March 8, 2014

CLEVELAND (AP) - As the arena filled with the familiar drone of “Zeeeeeee,” Zydrunas Ilgauskas waved his right hand and used his left to gently pat his heart.

The big man, the one who started off as a “skinny kid from Lithuania” and overcame injuries that would have stopped others, grappled with his emotions as he said thanks to the fans who adopted him as their own.

“Thanks for giving me a place I can proudly call home,” he said.

Cleveland roared back.

At 7-foot-3, Ilgauskas towered over everyone yet stayed completely down to earth.

Soft-spoken and doggedly determined, Ilgauskas, who overcame injuries and personal tragedy to become one of Cleveland’s best and most beloved players, had his No. 11 jersey retired Saturday night during an elaborate and emotional halftime ceremony as the Cavs hosted the Knicks.

The seventh player in team history to receive the honor, Ilgauskas joins Austin Carr, Nate Thurmond, Bobby “Bingo” Smith, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty and Mark Price in having his number raised to the rafters of Quicken Loans Arena.

All of them have career credentials worthy of the tribute, but the celebration for Ilgauskas goes far beyond any statistics.

“Throw basketball stuff out the window,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “He’s a terrific human being.”

During the ceremony, Ilgauskas was joined on the court by his wife, Jennifer, and their adopted sons, Deividas and Povilas. His parents also attended along with friends, former Cavs owner Gordon Gund and dozens of ex-teammates, including superstar LeBron James, who was invited by Ilgauskas and wanted to support the player affectionately known as “Z.”

“Probably one of the most talented guys I ever played with,” said James, who chartered a jet and flew in to be with his close friend.

James kept a low profile during the ceremony, staying close to the Cavs bench. He took pictures with his phone but didn’t want his appearance to overshadow his former teammate.

This was Z’s night.

Ilgauskas thanked everyone he could during his speech.

“Thank you for not giving up on a skinny kid from Lithuania,” he said to Gund.

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