NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Cavs retire Big Z’s No. 11 — Zydrunas Ilgauskas was a Cleveland Cavalier for the first 12 seasons of his 13-season NBA career. The 7-foot-3 center was one of the most unique players in the game who averaged 13.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 47.5 percent shooting during his time in Cleveland. The Cavaliers honored the accomplishments of Ilgauskas on Saturday night as they raised his No. 11 jersey into the rafters. Mary Schmidt Boyer of The Plain Dealer has more on the special night:
Zydrunas Ilgauskas had a few minutes to spend with the people who have meant the most to him.
His family, former coaches and teammates and the Cavaliers owners and executives — past and present — who brought them all together gathered in a room just off the court before the lavish halftime ceremony to retire his jersey.
“Danny Ferry came to me and said, ‘You know, you’re the only person that bring this group together in one room. Nobody else could,”’ Ilgauskas told reporters after the lavish production. “I felt like those people touched my life so much more than I have theirs. It was just special for them to take time out of their busy schedules and come to this occasion.”
That the group included LeBron James, in spite of the Miami Heat’s game at Chicago on Sunday, touched Ilgauskas deeply.
“For me, it was special,” Ilgauskas said. “There was some talk leading up to everything. The way I looked at it, if he wasn’t able to make it, that’s OK. I wanted to extend the invitation.
“But him being here is an added bonus for me because of what we’ve been through together. I consider him a dear friend, and we played so much, achieved so much, failed many times but also were successful a lot of times. For me, it would have been almost a detraction if he wasn’t here. Now that he was able to witness that made it so much more special.”
James ducked in and out of The Q without speaking to reporters, watching the game — and a cool pre-game video that meshed current players with former ones — from a suite behind the New York Knicks bench until he moved to the bench area for the halftime festivities. Also on the bench were former general managers Ferry, Jim Paxson and Chris Grant, former coach Mike Fratello, former assistant coaches Hank Egan and Melvin Hunt and former players Daniel Gibson, Anthony Parker, Delonte West and Ira Newble. (Knicks coach Mike Woodson, a former Cavs assistant to Randy Wittman, obviously, did not take part in the ceremony.) The current Cavs players, including Anderson Varejao, also came out of the locker room to watch the ceremony, and Varejao and Ilgauskas embraced as it ended.
Earlier this week, Varejao predicted his good friend would cry during his speech.
“Emotion’s a funny thing,” a dry-eyed Ilgauskas said. “Tears don’t necessarily always describe how a person feels. Inside I was nervous and knotted up.”
Then he joked, “I didn’t cry because I was on a time limit.”
Majority owner Dan Gilbert talked about what he thought the No. 11 hanging in the rafters would represent.
“It represents the concept of never, ever, ever, ever giving up. Ever,” Gilbert said. “It represents loyalty and honor from and for a town and franchise that has adopted Zydrunas as one of its own long ago.
“I think there’s a reason this town has fallen in love with Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and that reason is Zydrunas Ilgauskas represents everything that Cleveland, Ohio, is all about.”
That adopted son stepped to the microphone to thank his family, his former coaches and teammates, Gilbert and former owner Gordon Gund. And then he thanked the fans.
“You guys have been the main reason I kept getting back up after all the injuries and kept trying again,” he said. “I loved coming here to work every day, no matter what our record was, and I miss that feeling of running out of that tunnel on this court every single day of my life.
“I love being part of this community. I love being part of this city. I just hope that you feel the same way about me. Thank you again for this incredible honor, and thank you again for giving me a place I can call proudly ‘home’.”
In addition to attending the ceremony, LeBron James took to Instagram to honor his friend:
No. 2: Wall helps Nicki Minaj fan — John Wall has been impressive on the court all season for the Washington Wizards. However, this story is about his off-the-court accomplishments as he went out of his way to help a young fan of rapper Nicki Minaj. Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post has the story:
Damiyah Telemaque-Nelson has all the dolls and princesses she ever dreamed of, but her mom kept asking the 5-year old what else she wanted.
“I want to meet Nicki Minaj,” the youngster decided.
“Okay, I don’t know if Mommy can do that,” Kadisha Telemaque responded.
But her daughter – who has a form of cancer known as Burkitt’s lymphoma, which was diagnosed in October – has gone through months of chemotherapy. She’s had dialysis, spinal taps and extended stays at Children’s National Medical Center. If she wanted to meet Nicki Minaj, her mom was going to make it happen.
So Kadisha and her friends started peppering the entertainer’s social media pages with photos and messages about Damiyah, known to all as Miyah. That effort got the boost it needed when a friend of Wizards point guard John Wall showed him a Facebook post about Miyah’s wish. Wall – who has friends of friends in Minaj’s circle – brought Miyah’s tale to the team’s community relations staffers.
So on Wednesday night, Miyah and her family sat in Wall’s seats at Verizon Center. By Thursday, the family from Northeast Washington was back at the arena to meet Wall, even after the team canceled practice. By Friday, their joint video message to Minaj was all over social media.
“I want to meet Nicki Minaj and I want one of her pink wigs,” Miyah says in the video.
“What’s up Nicki, my buddy Miyah has cancer, and Nicki, c’mon, help us out, help us get one of those pink wigs,” Wall says, before hugging the young girl.
Before Friday was over, the music superstar had responded.
“Hi Miyah!!!!” Minaj wrote on Twitter. “Let’s see what we can come up with for a pretty little princess. ;)”
“She doesn’t know the depths of it, but she’s so happy,” her mom told me Saturday morning. “She said: ‘Nicki wrote me, Mommy? You think you’re going to like me in my pink wig?’ I said, ‘Yes Miymiy, I’m going to love you in whatever you have on.’ ”
Wall isn’t embarrassed to talk about his celebrity status, the people he knows or his million-plus Twitter followers. But he figures he should use those things “to do great things and help other peoples’ lives.”
“I had an opportunity with my celebrity status, knowing people that know people, to help this girl’s dream come true,” he said in a telephone interview from Milwaukee. “I knew [Minaj] had a caring heart, and when she had an opportunity to see it or read about it, I knew she’d reach out as soon as she could. I just thank my fans, everybody who retweeted it and reposted it, to give me the opportunity to make this girl’s wish come true. And we’ll try to make it happen.”
“I’m a shy person, I’m real quiet, but it was great,” Wall said. “You never want to miss an opportunity to put a smile on a kid’s face.”
For now, Miyah and her family are focused on Monday, when she has to return to the hospital for another scan and the latest prognosis. Wall, who knew of the visit, said Miyah is “a great little kid, she has a kind heart,” adding “I want everybody to pray for her.”
And her family – including older brother Khareem, who has decided he wants Wall to be his basketball coach – is soaking it all in.
“I wasn’t going to rest until I found a way to do it; I’m just surprised it happened so suddenly,” Kadisha said. “And it came about so easily, I was like, ‘Okay, dreams can come true.’ ”
No. 3: Davis feels ‘supernatural’ belief in Clippers locker room — Glen Davis has been a Los Angeles Clipper for only five games after he was bought out of his contract by the Orlando Magic. Despite this short amount of time with the team, Davis feels something special, maybe even “supernatural,” within the Clippers’ locker room. Dan Woike of The Orange County Register explains:
“It’s a special thing,” he said after the Clippers’ 142-94 victory. “It’s one of those things you can’t really describe. You can’t really put your finger on it, but it feels good. I feel it in the locker room. It’s a belief.”
Davis knows this feeling because he’s been a part of it before. Playing for Coach Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics, Davis won a title in his rookie season.
“It’s almost to the point of a supernatural belief,” Davis said. “We’re starting to believe, and not only believe, but put in the work. You combine the two, you’ve got a deadly combination of guys who can play the right way and who are just so athletic.
“When you mix athleticism and playing the right way every time with a great coach like Doc, the sky’s the limit.”
On the court, the feeling comes from a team scrambling on defense and making the extra pass on offense. Off the floor, it’s a connection and camaraderie that makes coming to work a good experience.
“I feel it,” he said.
Davis also feels comfortable in his role on the Clippers, even though he’s only been with the team for five games.
“It’s to play as hard as I can, play at the max, do what I know I can do and stay within that,” he said. “This team is so great and I don’t have to do too much. I have to do what I can, keep it at a minimum and go out there and play defense. That’s my game.
“It feels good to feel like you’re a part of something. Tonight, I’ve seen my worth, and it can only get better from here.”
Thursday, Davis scored 10 points off the bench and gave the Clippers a defensive spark when he subbed in after DeAndre Jordan’s early foul trouble.
“He obviously brings a, um, ginormous body, and he can really mess things up in the post,” Blake Griffin said. “He can score. He defends. He moves really well. He talks, which is huge. And, he’s been on a championship team. He’s been in Doc’s system. He knows all this.”
No. 4: ‘Melo address rumored Noah recruitment — Joakim Noah made it clear he was bored by “gossip” which emerged saying he gave Carmelo Anthony a recruitment pitch to join the Chicago Bulls over All-Star Weekend. Now, Anthony has taken his turn to voice his annoyance. Mitch Abramson of The New York Daily News has the quotes:
Carmelo Anthony scored 29 points on Friday night but his biggest shot was directed at a report that said Joakim Noah was trying to recruit him to the Bulls.
“No, not at all,” Anthony said when asked if there was any truth to the story after Friday’s 108-81 win against the Utah Jazz. “I can’t have that conversation.”
During All-Star Weekend, ESPN reported, Noah told Anthony that if he’s serious about winning a title, he should join the Bulls after he opts out of his Knicks contract on July 1.
Anthony reportedly told Noah that Derrick Rose is his son’s favorite player and asked what it’s like to play for Bulls coach and former Knicks assistant Tom Thibodeau.
The normally talkative Noah refused to discuss the story at the Bulls shootaround on Friday.
“You want me to address that?” he said, according to ESPNChicago.com. “I don’t feel like addressing it. I really have nothing to say about it.”
Mike Woodson said on Thursday that any recruitment pitch to Anthony would violate NBA tampering rules.
But Thibodeau dismissed the story, saying, “It’s a bunch of nonsense. People just start throwing stuff out there and then they wait for everyone to respond to it.”
No. 5: Smith defends coach Woodson — It’s been a rough season for the New York Knicks who sit outside the weak Eastern Conference playoff picture with a record of 24-40. Despite their struggle, J.R. Smith doesn’t believe coach Mike Woodson should be to blame. Back to Mitch Abramson at The New York Daily News for the story:
J.R. Smith defended Woodson, saying the way the embattled coach has been treated this season has been unfair.
“I think he’s done a great job since he’s taken over the head job,” Smith said, “and if we’re having a quote unquote bad year, I don’t think he should take the blame for all of that. I think some of the players should take the blame for that. And we should move on as a unit as opposed to singling people out.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Wizards’ Martell Webster dunked over Bucks’ rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo. … Carl Landry of the Sacramento Kings will miss the rest of the regular season. … Roy Hibbert wants a replica Iron Throne from the television show the Game of Thrones.
ICYMI of The Night: Chris Paul goes off the backboard to DeAndre Jordan for a giant dunk against Atlanta as the Clippers narrowly defeated the Hawks 109-108.
VIDEO: Play of the Day: Chris Paul