Unless he ends up re-signing there this summer, LeBron James will likely never live down the pain and torment his much-ballyhooed 2010 departure caused the Cleveland Cavaliers—the franchise as well as the city itself.
But for one night at least, King James’ presence was a welcome one indeed.
As very own Ethan Skolnick reported earlier, LeBron decided he would, in fact, be in attendance for the jersey retirement of longtime friend and teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas when Cleveland took on the New York Knicks Saturday night.
Dwyane Wade heading out after practice to his sister's wedding. LeBron heading to Cleveland for Big Z— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) March 8, 2014
James and Ilgauskas played together for eight seasons all told: seven with the Cavs and one more with the Miami Heat, with whom Big Z signed shortly after LeBron’s infamous “Decision."
Through it all, the two developed a unique on-court chemistry—a basketball odd couple whose mutual unselfishness helped shape Cleveland’s success during the mid-2000s.
Unfortunately, the Cavs didn't see it fit to officially include LeBron in the night's festivities. From Ira Winderman of the South Florida SunSentinal:
Interesting how LeBron was not seated alongside Cavaliers "legends." But a nice moment for Z, truly a gentleman and a special person.— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) March 9, 2014
However, that didn't stop LeBron from reconnecting with his old pals, according to Newsday's Al Iannazzone:
LeBron James is on the court taking pictures with some of his former teammates.— Al Iannazzone (@Al_Iannazzone) March 9, 2014
But the ceremony isn’t simply garnering headlines for the nostalgia. Indeed, many have speculated whether LeBron might soon seek to officially mend fences by returning to his native Ohio.
As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst wrote Friday, owner Dan Gilbert and the Cavs even went so far as to coordinate the ceremony to better fit LeBron’s schedule:
The Cavs even chose this date in October after consulting with James on whether he'd be able to fly over from Chicago, where the Heat are staying on an off night. Technically, James is coming at Ilgauskas' request, but the process of picking the game revolved around James' schedule and was orchestrated by the Cavs.
The gesture was just the latest in the two parties’ quiet courting over the last few months, which began when LeBron hinted that, under the right circumstances, he would certainly consider a prodigal return. As quoted by Windhorst:
"If they get things in order, they have some really good pieces here. We'll see what happens."
So yes, this won’t be your typical jersey-retirement ceremony—especially if Big Z were to get as misty-eyed as LeBron thought he might. From Skolnick:
LeBron expects Ilgauskas to get emotional: "He will for sure.... Allen Iverson is 1 of toughest guys we've ever seen & he was emotional..."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) March 8, 2014
From where we sat, it looked like Big Z definitely had a little eyeball moisture going on. Which, when a team cares as much as this one does about you, is bound to happen.
His speech, which ran just a few minutes, was like Ilgauskas himself: friendly, funny, but with the undercurrent of seriousness that long endeared him to the Cleveland fans.
Congrats, Z. May you remain forever fundamentally sound.
Here's some extended footage of the ceremony as it appeared on NBA TV.