December 15, 2010
It's no secret that Cleveland Cavaliers management and fans don't much care for LeBron James(notes). But he was not the only Cav to cross over to the Heat this summer: Beloved center Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) joined LeBron's talents in South Beach, too.
Nevertheless, Ilgauskas remains a fan favorite in Cleveland -- he was not heavily booed when the Heat visited Quicken Loans Arena two weeks ago -- and seems to be on good terms with the city as a whole. This is, after all, a man who gave the franchise so much that Cavs blogger John Krolik recast him as "The Giving Z" when Ilgauskas and his sizable contract were traded to Washington for Antawn Jamison(notes) at last year's deadline.
James and Ilgauskas are fielding copious questions about the Cavs in advance of Wednesday night's contest in Miami. Oddly enough, it turns out that Ilgauskas might not reciprocate those same warm fuzzy feelings for the Cavs organization. From Jason Lloyd on Ohio.com:
"I do not feel bad for anybody. Why should I? It's a business," Ilgauskas said. "They want to beat us just as badly as we want to beat them. Everybody is competitive."
Contrast that take with these words from LeBron:
"When we were together, we never liked to lose, so it's definitely a tough situation going on in Cleveland. I wish those guys the best. It just so happened that they haven't won since we played them and now they're coming here when we're still rolling. As much as I would love for them to get back on track, I don't want them to get back on track against us in their next game."
Now, refresh my memory: Which one is the beloved player in Cleveland?
There are a few ways to spin this; perhaps LeBron is just being nice to engage in damage control. Plus, while Zydrunas' words might seem a little cold, at least he's willing to admit that basketball is a business in which rival teams fight to come out on top over all competition. At least he's being honest about his feelings, unlike the devious James.
Except, if we're to commend Ilgauskas for telling the truth, then we also must admit that the affection Cavs fans still feel for him is a bucket of lies, too. Zydrunas is ultimately playing basketball to win and make money. So while the Cavs fans can appreciate his time with the team, they shouldn't act as if he has a kind heart unmatched by anyone who's ever worn the uniform.
In the end, Ilgauskas could be just as cold-hearted as LeBron. There's no doubt that James handled his departure from Cleveland poorly, but the difference in the reactions towards him and Ilgauskas can probably be explained best by the gap between their respective abilities. When you get right down to it, fans hate on the best player who left, not the worst person.