If it’s Z, it’s for me

There’s a beer commercial making the rounds right now where a young woman plays a vapid game of “Would You Rather?” with her date. She posits herself dangling off a cliff with other things presumably important to the man, asking him each time which one he would save. Whenever he gives the answer she wants to hear she makes googly eyes like a 5-year-old on Christmas morning.  

WOMAN: “Me and Buster. Which one would you save first?” (The man’s dog Buster looks on stupidly.)
MAN: “Easy. You.” (Buster’s ears perk up as if he knows he’s just been thrown off the cliff.)
WOMAN: “Me and your mom?”
MAN: “Sorry, Mom!” 

 Then comes the real test.  

WOMAN: “Me, or your Miller Lite.”
MAN: “Uh, how high is the cliff?” 

The woman storms off. The man commiserates with his beer and Buster, who just a moment before he was willing to throw off the cliff for the googly-eyed girl. Lesson? Either that Bud Light is more precious than human life or men are the dumbest creatures in the world.    

Which brings us to this quandary — would you rather have Zydrunas Ilgauskas or an NBA championship?

At least some think that’s the quandary.

See, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Keeping Z does not guarantee the Cavs will fall short of the NBA title. Conversely, trading Z does not guarantee LeBron James and company will parade the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy through downtown Cleveland in June.

But you’d think that’s the choice. Googly-eyed fans are asking the Cavs if they’d rather stay loyal to their most tenured player in history or throw him off the cliff to get that NBA title. Many have convinced themselves that’s the route the Cavs must take to win it all and keep LeBron James here until he retires.

Here’s the reality. Cleveland Cavalier fans should be heartbroken if Zydrunas Ilgauskas is traded.

Cleveland is a town of blue-collar values which regards loyalty as a virtue. Cleveland fans have made a cottage industry out of their anger over the disloyalty shown by Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Carlos Boozer. Heck, if LeBron himself were a politician there would have been a recall effort after he showed his disloyalty by wearing a Yankees hat to an Indians playoff game. After all that, what hypocrites Cleveland sports fans would be if we willingly went along with a plan to trade away the Cavs longest-tenured player in pursuit of an NBA title.

There’s no one embodies class and grace and blue-collar effort and what Cleveland sports fans stand for more than Zydrunas Ilgauskas. There should be a reward for that.

Seriously, trade Z’s expiring contract for a crackpot like Stephen Jackson, who sabotaged his own team after being named captain? Reward THAT type of behavior? The idea was an insult. 

And this is all before his 25-point, back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers in overtime against the Sacramento Kings in a 117-104 victory Wednesday night. That just shows the guy can still play a little. 

Just remember whom LeBron went to bat for a month ago by speaking out against coach Mike Brown. When Ilgauskas was shafted on the night he was set to break the Cavs all-time games-played record, the league’s best player spoke up for him. That’s the kind of loyalty Z inspires. That’s the kind of loyalty Z has earned. 

Ilgauskas didn’t complain when the Cavs wouldn’t let him play for Lithuania in the 2008 Olympics. Ilgauskas didn’t complain when the team traded for Shaquille O’Neal and relegated Z to a backup role. He barely even complained when he missed out on a chance to celebrate his games-played achievement. (At least not in public.)

There is room for loyalty in sports. Especially when the player still contributes as Z does. So far this season he’s averaging 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Those numbers are down off his career totals, but he’s had to adjust to a new role of coming off the bench. His averages are slightly better as a starter this year (8.8 points, 7 rebounds per game). Compare those stats to those of his replacement, Shaq: 10.2 points, 7 rebounds per game. Shaq hasn’t been significantly better.

This isn’t to say that Z is the player he once was and is just hampered by his new role. He’s clearly declined. The days of 14 and nine just two seasons ago are long gone. But he still has value. That value is a lot more than his expiring contract which teams love to trade for in these days of economic hard times in the NBA.

There’s plenty of other creative options for trading. J.J. Hickson? You’re a fine young player and good guy, but you’re expendable. Bend the rules in a sign-and-trade of Wally Szczerbiak’s mending knee? Do it tomorrow. Cut bait on Shaq? We can still follow him on Twitter.

But the googly-eyed “Would You Rather?” questions regarding Z need to stop. We all know that sports are a business. Except that sometimes they’re not. Imagine celebrating winning an NBA title with a parade down Euclid Avenue and Z holding the trophy over his head, 10 feet in the air, as high as a basketball rim. A title WITH Z can be won. Zydrunas Ilgauskas should not be thrown off the cliff so that all the rest of us can have a better chance to get to the finish line. If that trophy storms off in a huff, so be it.


One Response to If it’s Z, it’s for me

  1. CavsFan says:

    Completely agree. I’d buy a Z jersey before a LeBron jersey.

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