Joe Tait was the Cleveland Cavaliers broadcaster for four decades, starting with when the NBA first dropped an expansion team in Cleveland to try and slow the growth of the ABA.
Tait has a new book out about his recollections as a broadcaster, and of course there’s plenty of talk about LeBron James, something highlighted in a story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (via I am a GM).
But what jumped out at me is the story of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who was a part of Cleveland and loved the city but moved on last year, only to be disappointed.
“He went to Miami to try and get a championship ring before he retired,” said Joe. “He wasn’t even in uniform for some of those games in The Finals. He wanted to be a contributor, playing 15, 20 minutes a game and helping a team win a title. He loved, absolutely loved Cleveland. But when LeBron left, he knew they couldn’t win here — and the team wanted to rebuild and get younger. So he went to Miami. I’m telling you, the culture shock was hard on him.”
Joe said one of Ilgauskas’ friends visited the veteran center and his wife in Miami.
“I was told they were never happy, and the longer they were there, it got progressively worse,” he said. “Mrs. Z is from Cleveland. That was a zoo down there. I feel bad for him, because I’m sure it’s not anything close to what he expected.”
If you want LeBron James dirt, this is not the place. Tait liked him and was friends with Gloria (LeBron’s mom). He sees James as a product of his environment as much as anything — from the time he entered high school he could do no wrong, then he played in Cleveland where there was unconditional love and support from the fans while he was there. Owner Dan Gilbert coddled him and let him do what he want. So when James did “The Decision” it was the first time people really turned on him.
Tait’s basic thoughts get summed up this way in the story:
“In Cleveland, if he had a bad game or made a mistake — people would just say that was OK, he’ll play better next time,” said Joe. “He could do no wrong. No wrong at all. Everyone loved LeBron. That’s why he was so surprised by the negative reaction to the ESPN show. . . . He thought everyone would like it because everyone always seemed to like about everything he did.”
When Gilbert wrote an email ripping James and calling him a quitter, Joe said the first thing that crossed his mind was, “Dan, you created the monster, now you have to live with it.”