Friday, September 30, 2011
Zydrunas Ilgauskas retires from NBA
By Brian Windhorst ESPN.com
A succession of foot surgeries nearly brought a premature end to Zydrunas Ilgauskas' basketball career. On Friday, he announced his departure from the game on his own terms.
Ilgauskas was on the brink of forced retirement 11 years ago after five foot surgeries had mentally drained him. But he vowed to give it one more chance after a radical reconstructive surgery. As a result, he was able to reach two NBA Finals and two All-Star Games and retire after 13 seasons.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas retired Friday after 13 seasons with the Heat and Cavaliers.
He announced his decision Friday at an event in Cleveland, where he played the majority of his career.
Ilgauskas played 72 games, 51 of them starts, and averaged 5.0 points and 4.0 rebounds last season for the Miami Heat after playing his first 12 seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In June, Ilgauskas picked up an option in his contract for next season to leave open the possibility of returning. But after going through the summer, Ilgauskas decided he was done.
"Enough is enough," Ilgauskas told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "My body is beat up and I'm tired physically. There is no age limit, but everyone knows when it's time."
Ilgauskas, who was picked in the first round of the 1996 draft by the Cavs, missed most of his first four seasons dealing with a series of foot issues. But the 7-foot-3 Lithuanian recovered enough to play in 843 regular-season games, 756 after his final surgery in 1999, and 80 playoff games.
Ilgauskas gathered 2,444 offensive rebounds in his career, which is 41st all-time. He's also 40th all-time in blocks with 1,327.
Ilgauskas was the Heat's most steady center in his only season in Miami. But he was derailed somewhat by an infection in his foot that sidelined him for several weeks in March. He recovered in time for the playoffs but was taken out of the starting lineup in the second round and was not active for any of the Finals games against the Dallas Mavericks.
Ilgauskas said the season -- in which he and the Heat withstood intense scrutiny from the media and fans -- took a toll. Ilgauskas was particularly hurt when he was booed and heckled in Cleveland, where he had been one of the most popular players in franchise history.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience with the team being put together," Ilgauskas said. "There were lots of ups and downs. When you have a season that stretches so long and it involves more than basketball, it is tough mentally. You are drained, it's a long year."
Ilgauskas was one of the few players who lived through the last NBA lockout in 1998. That experience, and the hectic 50-game season that followed, may have played a role in his decision to go another season. In the past several years, Ilgauskas struggled when having to play on back-to-back nights because of knee and back issues.
"I want to spend more time with my family," said Ilgauskas, who now makes his home in Miami. "I have spent the past 15 years living out of a suitcase. It's time."
Brian Windhorst is an NBA writer for ESPN.com.