Right from the start, LeBron James proved that he came not to participate but to dominate. To this day, many have been praising his dominance and God-given athleticism. However, only a select few know about his less heard of trait, and one of them was his former Cleveland Cavaliers co-star Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
LeBron was always hardworking
Over the years, we’ve heard about several NBA stars who put in tremendous work and effort to continue improving. The late Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant was best known for it. As for James, everybody knows he takes care of his body, and his 20th NBA season backs it up. However, Ilgauskas once revealed that James, even during his early years in the league, was also hardworking, a trait most people don’t really associate with him.
According to “Big Z,” he knew right away that he and the young LeBron “played hard the same way.” Being a veteran of that Cavs team, Ilgauskas took pride in being the hardest working player on the squad. The Lithuanian was setting an example to his teammates, but with the King, Ilgauskas realized he didn’t need to.
“We both cared about our craft,” Ilgauskas said in 2014 via Cleveland.com. “I prided myself on being the first [to the gym], coming in early, getting my work done if we lost a game or something didn't go our way. But numerous times I'd go into the gym at 8 in the morning and LeBron was there already for an hour. We cared for the team and the game.”
Close but not quite
Due to their remarkable similarities, "the kid from Akron" and Ilgauskas developed a special bond as teammates; LeBron was the leader of the Cavs, while Ilgauskas served as his mentor.
James really wanted to win a championship with Ilgauskas, and they managed to come close in 2007, but they failed to beat the more experienced San Antonio Spurs in the Finals. The pair had another shot in 2011 in Miami, but once again, they lost in the Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.
LeBron finally won the chip the following season, but sadly, Ilgauskas was no longer with the team, having retired in the summer of 2011.
"I wanted to try my best to try to help him [Ilgauskas] see more brighter days than what he had seen,'' James confessed. "I wanted to ultimately win a championship for him. I fell a little short of that, but I brought some brighter moments to him.''
Indeed, James is a once-in-a-generation player, but apparently, he and Ilgauskas were cut from the same cloth as far as work ethic goes. And though they never won a title together, the pair treasures every bit of their time together as teammates.