LeBron eyes Ilgauskas' celebration
James' longtime teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas, whom James called "a dear friend" before he set a career-high with 61 points in Miami's 124-107 win against the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday, will have his No. 11 jersey retired by the Cavaliers on Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena.
"I want to be there, but we'll see. I'm not sure just yet," James said. "I think it's going to be a great day for my friend, a dear friend of mine. I'm excited for him."
After the Heat play Thursday in San Antonio, the team will have two days off on Friday and Saturday before playing in Chicago on Sunday. James and Ilgauskas played eight seasons together, seven in Cleveland and one in Miami, before Ilgauskas retired from the NBA in 2011.
Ilgauskas currently works in the Cavaliers' front office as a special assistant. Considering James' complicated history with the Cleveland faithful, would the reigning MVP's presence take attention away from Ilgauskas?
"I hope it doesn't, if I'm able to make it," James said. "It's not my day, it's not about me. It's about Z. But it wouldn't matter to me. Obviously I'm there for a dear friend, to be able to support him, if I'm able to make it, and that's the main thing."
James helped recruit Ilgauskas to Miami in the summer of 2010 after James left Cleveland. The Heat lost in the 2011 Finals to the Dallas Mavericks, the second time that James and Ilgauskas reached the Finals. Both ended without titles.
"It was very important (having him in Miami in 2010-11) and I came up short," James said. "Part of my whole inspiration bringing him (to Miami) was to try to win him an NBA championship. I tried to do it in Cleveland and came up short. I did it one year while he was here in Miami."
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Ilgauskas was the Cavaliers' first-round pick in the 1996 draft and played 12 seasons for Cleveland. Ilgauskas made the All-Star team twice despite dealing with an assortment of foot injuries that nearly derailed his career.
"I give a lot of credit to what I've been able to accomplish to (Ilgauskas)," James said, "because when I came in the league as a rookie, you try to find veteran leadership, someone to grab onto as far as how to be a professional, and he was that guy for me."
James considers Ilguaskas a close friend and still talks to him on a regular basis.
"(Ilgauskas) was the first person after we won each conference finals that I tried to find on the floor to give him a big hug because I knew what he'd been through for so many years and I knew what the franchise had been through for so many years," James said.
Since 2010, Cleveland's hard feelings for James have thawed somewhat. In recent games in Cleveland, a mix of cheers and boos have greeted James when he has suited up in the visitor's uniform.
The 43-14 Heat, 2 games behind the first-place Indiana Pacers, are on an eight-game win streak.
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