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The surreal, nostalgic and memorable from halftime at Z Night

Larry Nance was seated alongside Nate Thurmond. Austin Carr and Bobby "Bingo" Smith were to his left. The cutting-edge video tribute roared through the arena with creativity and grace as the legendary Wayne Embry approached the podium.

From the designated media area in section 106, I stood watching, listening and remembering.

He recalled a European scout who recommended the Cavaliers invest their 20th overall pick in the 1996 draft in a tall, skinny kind from Lithuania who Embry had never actually seen play.

Recently dismissed general manager Chris Grant was sitting on the Cavs bench as Embry spoke. LeBron James was seated next to him. At center court, approximately 50 feet away, Gordon Gund and Dan Gilbert listened as well.

Gilbert arrived at the podium next, speaking after Embry's keynote concluded. The Cavaliers owner referenced a lunch pail mentality, blue collar attitude and an approach to the game of basketball consistently demonstrated by Zydrunas Ilgauskas that Cleveland will always appreciate.

It was a nostalgic scene, an inspirational message and an awesome celebration all rolled into one.

The video highlights played out on the hardwood floor, Ilgauskas' No. 11 jersey was sent to the rafters in rocket-like fashion and the big man spoke as eloquently as we all imagined he would. Flanked by his family, Ilgauskas' words were laced with humility, gratefulness and joy as the crowd responded with thunderous applause.

I stepped off the elevator on my way down to Big Z's media availability approximately five minutes later and replayed the ceremony back through my head.

'Those guys killed it with the highlight video. Didn't see that final scene Windy was talking about though. Crazy that LeBron was sitting on the Cavs bench with Grant. Z would be a great guy to have deliver a best man speech.' 

Then, as I turned left down the hallway toward the Cavaliers locker room, I was interrupted by a congestion of traffic. 

Dan Gilbert and his ownership team were standing there to my left. They were caught in the same traffic. While watching the team owner politely stand until a path opened up, I decided to do the same. It was at that moment, though, that I looked up to see Daniel "Boobie" Gibson back in the building. He was about six feet in front of us, on the other side of some people I didn't recognize, talking with LeBron James.

Gibson dapped up James in the adjacent hallway while exchanging pleasantries before walking in separate directions. And then, there was Chris Grant again. 

This time, instead of sitting next to James on the Cavaliers bench at halftime of the New York Knicks game, Grant was leaning up against the wall in the hallway; directly in front of Dan Gilbert, myself and a handful of other people.  

While I stood there, taking this all in, I thought back to last Sunday when I first broke the news that LeBron James was expected to attend Ilgauskas' jersey retirement ceremony.

I also thought, that even knowing as much, I never imagined I'd be standing in the same hallway with Gilbert, James and the Cavs general manager who was fired less than a month ago.

Just as soon as I turned the corner to navigate my way down the hall, however, I was stopped by another Cavaliers legend: Delonte West. 

"Delonte, man," I said. "It's good to see you back in Cleveland."

"Thanks man," he replied. "Good to be here."

"Cool if I take a picture?"

"For sure."

I took this one.

Then Delonte threw up deuces and a hilarious expression before saying thanks again. I laughed, stepped aside and immediately posted the picture on Twitter.

Dan Gilbert, LeBron James, Chris Grant and Delonte West, I thought. That sounds like the intro to one of those terrible 'all walk into a bar' jokes. Except it wasn't.

On this night, they were all in the same hallway, everything was totally cool and it was 2009 all over again. It was back to a time when Quicken Loans Arena was packed with so much hope, so much personality, so much confidence and so much camaraderie.

I wondered if we'd ever see that again in Cleveland. Would we ever see a guy like Z who could help bring all of those personalities together in a quest for a common goal? A collection of teammates with a bond strong enough to bring everyone back again five years later from all over the world.

And then I also wondered if the Cavs organization would ever commit to Kyrie Irving in the same way they committed to LeBron James. As the third quarter began, I wondered if Irving ever asked himself that same question.

But this was a night about Big Z, I concluded. No time for any of that. I should probably get down to the presser before it's over. 


Photo: David Richard/USA TODAY

Brendan Bowers

About Brendan Bowers

I am the founding editor of StepienRules.com. I am also a content strategist and social media manager with Electronic Merchant Systems in Cleveland. My work has been published in SLAM Magazine, KICKS Magazine, The Locker Room Magazine, Cleveland.com, BleacherReport.com, InsideFacebook.com and elsewhere. I've also written a lot of articles that have been published here.

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