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The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search For The Soul of LeBron James
Review of Scott Raab's provocative book.
If you want to understand why sports is a socially-relevant experience, a phenomenon that brings communities together and invigorates humanity, something that represents far more than machismo, Scott Raab's The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James is the next book you should read. If you already understand this connection, then you'll agree that this is arguably the most entertaining and insightful sports book of 2011.
As the Miami Heat settle into another NBA Finals- with the controversially assembled Super Team of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James- all eyes are on King James and Company to see if they can finally live up to their own hype. Especially since they sort of FAILED at that last year, despite having a championship celebration before they even played their first game.
Let me be clear about my stance here: fuck LeBron James, and fuck the Miami Heat.
Yes, I'm from Cleveland, and I share this disgust with thousands of other Clevelanders. But what the rest of the outside world doesn't get about this loathing is, we don't despise LeBron because he left Cleveland for what he felt was a better city and opportunity. Hell, I moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles a year ago, and most likely won't ever move back to Ohio. Raab is in the same boat, having left Cleveland for the East Coast a few decades ago, to achieve his dream of being a celebrated writer.
Point being, many people leave Cleveland to chase dreams they aren't catching in Ohio. It is HOW James left that serves as the biggest treachery in Cleveland's rocky sports history.
In the two months between James giving up in the 2010 playoffs against the Boston Celtics, to him announcing his move to the Heat, he arrogantly strung his fans, his hometown, and his team along to the very last minute- thus screwing the Cavs out of figuring out how to regroup before the coming season.
He shit on Cleveland via an internationally-televised event orchestrated by his crew, plain and simple.
Widely considered one of the best American sportswriters alive- having written for such prestigious magazines as GQ and Esquire- Scott Raab captures the feelings of Cleveland pride as well as betrayal, particularly for a city which has been routinely kicked in the nuts since at least the '60s. The Whore of Akron is as much of a personal tale as it is a history of James, detailing Raab's bouts with substance abuse and other personal struggles while growing up on the North Coast. Whenever things got ugly in Raab's life, he could always enjoy a game, and for that isolated period in time, unify with his city in cheering on their teams.
Raab follows James around in his final year as a Cavalier, leading up to "The Decision," then covers his first year with the Miami Heat. Throughout the tale, there are comical moments right next to heartbreak...which to Raab, are often of the same event.
Through his personal reflections as well as insightful sports coverage, Raab manages to acutely explain how sports play a very strong role in unifying people, a bond just as strong and valid as any other.
At many times, it's a Clevelander's love of their professional sports teams- the Browns (football), Indians (baseball), and Cavaliers (basketball)- that keeps them hopeful, when nasty weather and the economic realities of a region struggling to survive grow too miserable to endure. "Sometimes," Raab notes, "the mere existence of the Cavs, Browns, and Indians seems like all that keeps Cleveland from slipping into darkness forever."
Maybe this is why Cleveland fans are legendary in their passion. Sure, there are sports fanatics in every city, but almost all professional commentators will acknowledge that few match the intensity of a Cleveland fan. As Raab writes, "if the crux of ardent fanhood holds a touch or more of madness, then Cleveland fanhood is a bug-eyed, shit-smeared lunatic, howling for a God who's never going to come."
To be sure, none of this is meant to trash Cleveland, which at the end of the day is a fantastic, unique, and constantly evolving metropolis. Raab is quick to point out that, although he too left Cleveland for different pastures, he still holds the city very dear to his heart. At one point he even admits, "I know now that I'm never coming back to Cleveland to live- and knowing it, I love the place even more."
So now we watch to see if James will choke again in the Finals, or finally win his first NBA championship. Truth be told, if anybody deserves a championship ring, it might as well be LeBron James. He came from the gutter, and has risen to the status of a legend. Loathing him has become simply an act of unity with other Cavs fans; I'm more excited about seeing the Thunder clinch their first championship, and I'm way more interested in seeing what the Cavs have in store for us next season.
That sense of solidarity, despite all the media hype, despite the inflated egos of pro athletes, despite overly-commercialized events, despite all else, is precisely why sports will continue to be an integral part of society.
Scott Raab has brilliantly and brutally examined this truth in The Whore of Akron, which is at times hilarious, depressing, profound, and everything in between (i.e. the man makes sure we know how much he loves handjobs from his wife). The result is one of the best accounts to date of what it's like to be a Cleveland sports fan.