CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Zydrunas Ilgauskas spent 12 years as a Cavalier and adopted Cleveland as his home.
The Lithuania native toiled through a pair of significant foot injuries early in his career, bounced back to become an All-Star and helped lead the Cavs to their first NBA Finals with LeBron James in 2007.
Wednesday night, Ilgauskas was honored with the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ at the 18th annual Greater Cleveland Sports Awards.
Ilgauskas, who broke the team record for rebounding in 2008 and set the games played mark in 2009, saw his No. 11 retired by the Cavs on March 8, 2014.
“Multi-talented guy but an even greater person to be around every day,” James, who played 7 seasons with Ilgauskas, said. “He came to work every day, showed up every day and he gave everything he could to this franchise.”
James respected what Ilgauskas went through in the early years of his career and how not only did he never give up but he became one of the best big men in the league during the Cavs’ playoff runs from 2005-2010.
“First, you talk about adversity and what he had to go through when he started his NBA career with the foot injuries he continued to go through, the foot surgeries he had to go through being that size and at some point thinking he’d never be able to play a game and to see him getting all the way back to him becoming and All-Star while I was here being the impact player that he was,” James said. “We had a heck of a chemistry with our pick and pop. And you talk about seven-footer’s shooting threes – you talk about that now with guys like Porzingis and all those guys – Z was doing it back when we played. He started to step out of his range too. I remember one of them – he hit a big three at Sacramento from the right corner that sealed the game for us.”
The annual awards ceremony this year was hosted by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi.
Indians 2-time Cy Young Award winning pitcher Corey Kluber was named the ‘Professional Athlete of the Year’ and the Indians’ historic 22-game win streak was named the ‘Best Moment in Cleveland Sports.’
Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, who helped introduce the high school athletes of the year along with former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, received a special honor for his consecutive snaps streak that ended at 10,363 when he tore his left triceps tendon in the third quarter of a 12-9 loss to Tennessee on Oct. 22.
Wadsworth quarterback and 2017’s Ohio Mr. Football Joey Baughman and Brecksville-Broadview Heights volleyball star Shannon Williams won the male and female ‘High School Athlete of the Year’ awards, Kent State track and field standout Reggie Jagers III as well as Michigan basketball and Chagrin Falls native Hallie Thome won the male and female ‘Collegiate Athlete of the Year’ awards.
North Olmstead’s Samer Bali was honored with the ‘Courage Award.’ Bali, a senior captain of his football team was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that forced him from the playing field for his senior season but not away from his team. He still attends school in between treatments and hopes to play rugby and major in finance in college.