For James, Cleveland trip was to support Ilgauskas

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CHICAGO (AP) — LeBron James simply wanted to support his friend, so the Miami Heat star found himself back in his old stomping grounds.

James couldn’t pass up the opportunity to show his support for Zydrunas Ilgauskas. He was back in Cleveland as the Cavaliers retired his longtime teammate’s jersey Saturday.

“It was special, a special time for Z, and I’m happy I was able to be a part of it,” the four-time MVP said before Sunday’s game against the Bulls in Chicago.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Zydrunas Ilgauskas is introduced during halftime of an NBA basketball game between the New York Knicks and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, March 8, 2014, in Cleveland. Soft-spoken and doggedly determined, Ilgauskas, who overcame serious injuries and personal tragedy to become one of Cleveland’s best and most beloved players, had his No. 11 jersey retired Saturday night during an elaborate halftime ceremony certain to be emotionally poignant. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

James spent thousands to charter a plane for the ceremony and kept a rather low profile, staying close to the Cavaliers’ bench and taking pictures with his phone. It was a surreal sight, given the circumstances surrounding his departure to Miami four years ago — his decision and owner Dan Gilbert’s infuriated letter in response.

James’ relationship with the organization has improved in recent years, with former general manager Chris Grant doing all he could to mend it on both sides before getting fired a month ago.  And with Ilgauskas being honored, James wanted to be there.

“He was one constant teammate I had over the years, one constant friend that I had as far as this profession,” he said. “You can’t really get those times back. I felt like for me to be there for eight of his years, being a good friend, there was no way I was going to miss it if I had an opportunity to (attend).”

In other news, James said he has not been medically cleared to play without a protective mask. He ditched it during Thursday’s game at San Antonio.

“It’s not comfortable,” said James, who broke his nose against Oklahoma City on Feb. 20.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Zydrunas Ilgauskas’s jersey is raised during a ceremony during halftime of an NBA basketball game between the New York Knicks and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, March 8, 2014, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

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