The four-time league MVP played his first seven seasons with Ilgauskas in his hometown of Cleveland and is on record in asserting he would like to be in the house for his one-time mentor’s shining moment on Saturday night.
“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 told ESPN. “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. I want to be there. I’m not sure just yet. I think it’s going to be a great day for my friend, a dear friend of mine.”
At least part of James’ uncertainty comes courtesy of Heat management, who aptly point out nowadays Ilgauskas isn’t just some random ex-teammate of the league’s reigning MVP.
The 13-year veteran is currently an assistant GM for the Cavs, who have more than made it apparent they would more than welcome James back into the fold once he becomes a free agent as early as the summer of 2015.
After a Thursday night showdown with San Antonio, James and the Heat have two days off before facing the Bulls in Chicago on Sunday. On the surface, that would give James the time and space he needs to be at Quicken Loans Arena and back among the fans who once so adored him before he abruptly bolted for the Heat in 2010.
“It’s not my day, it’s not about me,” said James. “It’s about Z. 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.”
Ilgauskas was the Cavs’ first-round pick in the 1996 draft and played 12 seasons for Cleveland and one in Miami also with James. Ilgauskas was also a two-time All-Star before persistent foot injuries prematurely ended his career.