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The Whore

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LEBRON JAMES
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Basketball freaks and subscribers to Sports Illustrated for Kids don't need to throw away whatever dough they have left on Scott Raab's brilliant Gonzo-like memoir, The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for The Soul of Lebron James, (Harper, 2011, 302 pages). But for those who appreciate or identify with the anguish of the outsider looking in, the pain and consequences of childhood abandonment, the joy and obsession of actually caring about one's hometown teams, let me please introduce you to Esquire magazine's writer-at-large. Raab, at 320 pounds, is now the real "big baby" of the NBA. He is a tattooed 60-year-old ex-drunk and druggie whose keen observations and deadly humor place him squarely at the forefront of American journalism today.

"Scotty," a moniker he is called by his Mongoloid pal, Nicky, whom he drove around his beloved Cleveland during his days cleaning up for what everyone used to call "retards," is himself the son of a philandering loser of a dad who flew the coop when the boy was a toddler, and a mother, God bless them all, who can at times be seen pushing a baby stroller down Euclid Avenue with nothing but a newspaper and a filthy blanket inside. "Oh where, oh where can my baby be?" Well, Mrs. Rabb, he is Hunter S. Thompson, Wolfe and Breslin; every bit as messed up, alienated, angry, bitchy, cruel, and, and, and, "angelic" -- a father for the first time (like me) at 47. "Big Boy" in love with something other than his own penis, calmed by the purity of child, says, "I could lie beside my son all night, just listening to him breathe."

"The Whore" who haunts Raab is serpent-like. He is responsible for bringing back decades of nightmares. He led to the author gaining close to 100 pounds, causing massive back spasms, hence consuming bottles of painkillers. He jilted a hometown love. To Scotty, the Indians, Browns, Cavs, they are all the same: "The Catch," "The Drive," "The Fumble," "The Shot," are cruel moments, but who would have ever possibly imagined that some no-good Quisling LA talent agents could create more venom off the playing field with "The Decision"? This was an act so vile, so rude and dumb and narcissistic that, following it, Raab decides to ask his "normal"-size wife, the second of her kind, for an expression of affection in the form of a hand job. Yep, no lotion, no skin cream, not even saliva -- right then and there, "Get up on the bed," she purrs. Ah. The relief. The temporary forgetfulness of the orgasm, hopefully the kind that echoed in the back of his head -- the black clouds of Brian Sipe throwing the interception, Jose Mesa blowing yet another save, Craig Ehlo falling on his face before MJ does them in -- gone -- done -- but there's no real room for downtime.

The limpness, the lack of protection, that's what hits his brain -- The decision to abandon furiously attacks his neurological system as an entire city is left alone one more time. It is a city that gave us the acquired tastes of Drew Carey, Arsenio Hall, Standard Oil and Dennis Kucinich -- a city gone from 7th to 44th in population stats in no time at all. A city castigated and castrated, spit upon, defiled by King James and his jewelry-clad cousins and chums and gangsta mom G-L-O-R-I-A (no, she did not, according to Scotty, screw her Sonny's bipolar teammate Delonte West during his 2010 Playoff meltdown, though the source of the vicious deflection was lifetime advisor number one, The Whore's very own business manager, to a lapdog TV reporter) a city so humiliated that even Detroit -- which is almost impossible to believe -- Milwaukee and Pittsburgh have teams that have won more.

The anointed city is Cleveland, older and bigger sister to Akron, on the Cuyahoga River, without a championship since Sir Jim Brown beat Unitas in the '64 NFL Championship -- the second greatest accomplishment, right behind the 1974 Beer Riots at an Indians/Rangers game. Of course, Raab was at both and he has stubs to prove it. The city and the child abandoned by "assholes," one a father, the other a 6'8" 250 lb. marketing vehicle, who, who, who just can't do it when it matters. The difference between the two? Lebron was duped into feeling he is protected. When a high school kid dunks over him at a meaningless workout and some poor schnuck captures it on his cell phone camera, the emissaries of Nike and the hood confiscate such porn.

To Raab, "The Whore" and his handlers search for excuses. Lebron isn't an assassin like West, Bird, Magic, Reggie or Michael. He is the second coming of Nick Anderson at the foul line. "I knew he was an asshole years before he became a free agent. The whining and ref-baiting, the tough guy scowling and bicep-flexing belied his every instance by his failure to step up for a cheap-shotted teammate." But "hope" is the common denominator, and the man-child who told everyone and anyone that he loves his hometown, "took his skills to South Beach," where the chicks are luscious and according to the author, don't wear any underwear. He left his own little boys back in Cleveland at their 35,000 square ft. mansion with a barber shop, bowling alley, casino, and a 2240 square ft. closet (this is NOT a typo). "He became what he always was," said Jim Chomes, the 6'11" former Cav center and Marquette All-American, or, as Raab reports, "a fraud, no guts, no heart, no soul" type of guy.

In The Whore of Akron, Raab the Clevelander and the Jew, a punk quasi-drug addict too afraid to hit up but clever enough to mastermind phony prescription scams for bottles of 100 Quaaludes and nutty enough to trip his brains out to the Velvet Underground, clearly possesses the characteristics of a great artist: love of language, self-loathing and fearlessness. It is, in a sense, a blessing that this is his first book because, hopefully, there are more to come. Here's a guy writing about Mo Williams but reading Hannah Arendt and Primo Levi. A few hit men, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer, are trying to disparage the work as "angry," when the fact is that he's just hilariously pissed off. He speaks for those who can't, or in the case of Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, who shouldn't. Fat Raab, downing three corned beef sandwiches on one flight, survived because his teams offered him escape. They were his "good," daddy, mommy, booze, Mexican, Jamaican, dark buds, gooey hash, his evil. He was brought to this earth by parents whose greatest achievement, as far as I can surmise, was figuring out how to have babies. He had a need to strike back and he did, with siblings, friends, teachers, wives. Yet, there was a chance and it came in the form of games, of disappearing, of rooting for his Indians and Browns and Pipers and, by 1970, his Cleveland Cavaliers.

This was once a proud town divided in half. Working-class Eastern Europeans and Slavs, from Jews, WASPs, Italians and later Negroes -- it's always the Negroes -- the Indians had a history. They had Feller, Rosen, Avila, Vic Power, but not much after 1948 to show for it. They had Herb Score, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia, 111 victories -- but were swept 4-0 in '54 by a redneck journeyman New York Giant outfielder, Dusty Rhodes and an MVP sophomore, not yet labeled the creep that he was, Willie Mays. That was it. Oh, they had Colavito and Harvey Kuehn. They once traded managers with the Tigers in the middle of the season. They tried and kept at it. In 1998, one out away from becoming World Series champions, they lost to an expansion team from Florida, in front of something like 13,000 fans, when Jose Mesa blew his third save of the Series. The Curse of Gil McDougal if you ask me.

The Browns, hey. The original Paul into Jimmy. Early integrationists: Bobby Mitchell. Browns vs Giants, Sam Huff, Gifford, Paul Warfield, Frank Ryan with his 165 IQ. In 1964, at 12, with Scotty there, the Browns won it all. The boy needed that. Something good happened. Temporary blindness, identification with success. It was okay "to feel," so please can you give me this again, prayed the boy. Will you do it Yahweh? One more time. Please. I'll be good...

Nope. Not happening. The Browns and the Indians, nada since then. The Cavs? Well, with a high-scoring guard in Austin Carr and big Chones, they were on to something good in 1975. They won their division, "The Miracle at Richfield," but the big guy broke his foot. Raab says, "What Clevelanders refer to as a miracle ended in heartbreak and angst."

Before the Cavs were granted a franchise, the City actually housed a championship-caliber pro team, the Pipers of the ABL, helmed by the first-ever African American coach in pro ball history, the Hall of Famer John McLendon. Here too, this ended in disgrace. McLendon, who taught the game all over the world before it became fashionable, mastered the fast break, created the four corners, integrated the hotels in numerous cities during the 1950s, and won three consecutive NAIA national championships while at Tennessee State, quit when his young owner, Clevelander George Steinbrenner, marched into his halftime locker room to humiliate a young player, by trading him to the opposing team.

There is no single bigger bore than Herr Steinbrenner in the history of professional sports. Well, maybe "The Whore," but, curiously the imperfect Raab leaves Steinbrenner out of the book. Currently residing in death, Steinbrenner had more "protectors" and "enablers" than even Lebron. A full demerit for the otherwise superb reporter who offers the best tip I have ever heard to all writers: "Wait."

Raab's journey to some degree of self-esteem and to combat his demons began upon his acceptance to the Iowa Writers Workshop. There, he married his first wife, a future M.D., and was smart enough not to procreate. He was discovered by GQ's Art Cooper and molded by Esquire's creative boss David Granger, who kind of figured Scotty had chops. Indeed, while he was starting out on The Whore Raab was also profiling kindred druggie Robert Downey, Jr., another guy with a schmuck for a father. Raab then travelled to Warsaw with the son of Nazi war criminal and Clevelander John Demarcyzk. He had a helluva time, as did the Feds, figuring out if he was actually Ivan the Terrible, who exterminated 35,000 Jews, or just your everyday SS murderer who capped 3550." When Raab went to a hateful town in the Ukraine, the stench of slime from 65 years ago, didn't move him to tears. A day later, he found out the Indians traded catcher Victor Martinez to the Red Sox and he broke down. His answer to the atrocious ignoramus who preached anti-Semitism is quite practical. "The fact that morons by the millions cling to the belief that Jews have special, even demonic powers, hell, that's just gravy." Like all the great ones, Raab knows it's all about the material. For instance, in describing one of the major selling points by the Akron Chamber of Commerce types, the basketball arena known as the JAR, coined for ex-Governor James A. Rhodes, Scotty pulls no punches calling Rhodes, "the same pinhead" who ordered the National Guard to assassinate four young students at Kent State.

For basketball freaks, there are an equal number of stingers and revelations. On the Cavs seven-foot frizzy-haired Brazilian center Anderson Varajao, "They replaced 30 percent of the dancers every off-season just to keep him fed." On Ted Arison, the father of current Miami Heat owner Mickey, a "Tel Aviv-born gonif who parlayed refurbished ships, slave labor and tax evasion into an empire worth billions." On opening night at the loathsome arena in Miami, "It doesn't feel like a sporting event. It feels like a party to which I have never been invited." And on Cav General Manager Danny Ferry, "A 6'10" midget."

Raab reminds us that Cav point guard Mo Williams could never come up big, Lebron's pal Maverick Carter planted the anti-Eric Spoestra stories, and guys such as Barkley, Bird, Michael and Magic disparaged The Whore's character, thinking him to a shill for "shoe companies and soft drinks" -- a stretch for me, considering the sources.

Hoop junkies are in a good REM zone these days. First Simmons' Basketball and now The Whore. I loved Billy Boys' epic, freshness and wit. I admire the fact that, like Raab, he shilled for his own hometown girl, the Celtics. I'm just disappointed he didn't go all out and name Mel Counts or Rick Robey to the list of "Top 100 Players of All Time," though he made up for it by mentioning Larry Siegfried and Gerald Henderson on 117 separate occasions. What's most shocking about The Whore is that in the days of three people owning everything, Raab found a publisher willing to go against the grain. I mean, couldn't Maverick call Lebron pal Warren Buffett to pull a few strings with Rupert to stop Harper's workaholic editor David Hirshey from believing in the book? Hirshey is the kind of editor every author needs -- a fighter. He was behind Jane Leavy's bios on Koufax and Mickey Mantle. Hirshey published the best baseball book in decades, Dan Barry's Bottom of the 33rd. I'm convinced, though, that Raab's genius may suffer a "similar commercial" path. Barry was silly enough to marry history, intricacies, thought and loveliness into his narrative in the days of Snooki, JLo and Kris Humphries. Still, the reviews were so extraordinary until his own Sunday New York Times commissioned a whiny freelancer from The Tablet who nobody ever heard of to write about himself. This stopped the publisher from spending more money, stalled sales, but still left the so-called reviewer as "permanently anonymous." It's not that "quality" is missing. It's just no longer relevant.

In the late '80s, early '90s, Clevelanders were hopeful. GM Wayne Embry, Oscar's old 6'8" 270 lb. pick-and-roll partner, had constructed a balanced Cavs team: choirboy point guard Mark Price could shoot, run, think, pass and play. Ron Harper was long, forwards Larry Nance and John Williams played both ends, and center Brad Dougherty was much better than any of the "experts" thought. Two problems: Harper was replaced by Ehlo, and then a guy named Michael got in the way. Everyone who wanted to try to wrestle the NBA crown used the same strategy: "We have to get a big two to defend and tire out MJ." Hornachek in Utah, Drexler in Portland, ""The Glove" in Seattle, and, by the way, stop propagating the BS, Gary, that you were better than John Stockton. Meaner and dumber doesn't equal better. The truth was obvious. Michael, "The First Mr. Marketing," the first Private Plane for his cronies, cigar-chomping, casino-loving syntax-mashing darling that he was, is simply the greatest ever to play the game. No argument. Hands down, and I'm old school Russell, Dipper and Robertson. Cleveland couldn't win. Scotty was happy being miserable. He couldn't grasp the Nike/Falk Post-modern principle, "better to receive than to give," and neither did "The Whore." After all, Lebron left his neighborhood public school to go cross town, big-time Catholic. When he was 12. the transformation from 8th grader to NBA began, so why, after seven years, failing to win, colossal disappointments and chokes, would he want to stay in town?

Why the hurt, Scotty? Why not just have a fourth corned beef on rye, three more Vicodins, a hand job from lovely Lisa after she wraps your swollen legs? When is it time to ease the pain embedded by Daddy and Mommy? Chris Rock, interviewed by Scotty for an Esquire piece, tells him the truth. "These are 25-year-old guys. Miami or Cleveland, c'mon." So, Scotty had to deal with the prospect of being hurt and disappointed again. He wasn't even living in Ohio anymore. He took the wife and kid to Jersey and was making money doing what he's good at, what he loves. Cleveland was disappearing. Larry Dolan had the Indians going nowhere. Only a handful of NFL fanatics could figure out to which town the original Browns moved and who replaced them. I mean, maybe Lebron saw the handwriting on the wall. The big lovable quitter with more talent, muscle and speed than any player in history, with a libido and a smile, however phony, was going to leave and he would cope quite nicely.

But... It was the way it was done: WME, CAA, Jim Gray, "a sock puppet waving a 'Will Fluff for Food' sign." "The Decision" -- the biggest fix since JFK took Texas in 1960. The entire chase to land the King was fraudulent: the cover-up, the lack of real reporting, the omission of collusion by Worldwide Wes and Maverick and their two TV shills I cannot name because my editor will scratch it out. The Lebron "people" knew it was Miami, and Scotty should have known because Riley has the rings and the balls. Plus, they gave the King the one thing every child needs -- protection. What did anyone expect? Donald Sterling? Newark? Chicago and Michael's shadow? In New York, Isiah was working. He told the world he was making a secret trip to Cleveland to have a confidential talk with an unnamed pal of his and Lebron's. He'd bring back the dope. He'd be the hero. Another child left alone was searching for something more.

So it was "The Decision" which ranks as the most ill-advised concept in TV history -- the worst. From the tri-color hometown props, the location, the donation, the preparation, the questions, answers, host, camera angles, to the "I'm taking my talent to South Beach" sound bite that rushed Scotty to the Moon. Beam up!! Raab now had more ammunition than needed. A 25-year-old, tired of the Cleveland/Akron lady folk, wooed by Riley with his rings, created a narrative about "winning" to hide behind the guts of DWade, the real hero of his 2008 Olympic Gold and possessor of one NBA ring himself. OK. He won it with Shaq. What talented, slasher, shooter, two guard hasn't won with the Big Nostril? Kobe? He won. Oh. Mr. James has not.

Riley is a great salesman and Mickey Arison, son of Tel Aviv-born Ted, set no limit to their pitch. In Chicago, the cousins, advisors and posse demanded to travel on the team charter, attend all practices, hang in the locker room. "No," said the owners. "Wouldn't do that for Michael. Not happening with you." Presto! Maverick, Cousin Randy, Cousin Lynn and Gloria, welcome to the Heat. Steve Stoute, another advisor and Raab omission, come on down.

Is Raab too hard on Lebron? Yes. But The Whore is a masterpiece. The fact of the matter is the man-child from Akron has every right to "want to be protected." His 16-year-old mother did a lousy job. His 18-year-old friends weren't up for it. I'd do the same at that age if some fools handed me the bank. According to Raab, it takes a long time to grow up, longer to wise up, longer to recognize "celebrity" breeds "leeches."

Jim Gray and the talent agents and "The Decision" brought Scott Raab a magnificent gift: memories of The Steal, The Drive, The Shot. In one self-centered brainstorming session, they took a beloved child and exposed him to the world as a "Robotool." Their motives were transparent -- a need to be in "the mix." While The Lovely Lisa is jerking Raab off, these "advisors" performed a virtual circle jerk of self-absorption disguised as marketing genius.

"The Decision" was a bad night for Scotty, but a great night for Raab. And then it got even better. The regular season, the Kremlin-like post-game news conference, the quest for the title, the playoffs were underway. Scotty comes to Miami, fatter than ever, bad back, extra-long airplane seat belts, shut out of American Airlines arena by the Heat PR folk. Miami wins. They lose. They cry. They slaughter Byron Scott's Cavs who become one of the worst teams in NBA history. The Heat begin to jell. They rush through the playoffs. The King dominates. He scores from up top, to the hoop, from three-point land. He stops Paul Pierce, and he relishes in his stats.

First game versus old and slow Dallas, Miami wins. And then, as if Raab could do no wrong, as if Ray Chapman, the Cleveland player who got killed by a beanball, opened up the sky, another "Miracle at Richfield" occurred. The big soft German Nowitzki got tough. The old point guard Jason Kidd got young. Terry caught fire. Barea drove the middle. Shawn Marion became a slender Bernard King. Chandler stopped every second shot. Dallas decided they liked playing five versus four. The King wasn't dead. He just disappeared in a way that nobody, I mean nobody, has ever seen before.

Dallas, up 3 games to 2, turns Scotty's despondence to relief. His book isn't about anger, but rebirth. Sipe wasn't intercepted. Mesa struck out the side. Ehlo stuffed Michael on the way up. Mr. 4th quarter turns into Mrs. 1st, 2nd and 3rd quarter. Oh sure, his future NBA Championships are all but assured because there's just too much heart in Wade, savvy in Riley and skills in Bosh. But for one season, one moment in June 2011, Cleveland wins. His father shows up. "I love you, son." His mother stops badgering him. "I'm proud of you, Scott." He strokes the head of his 12-year-old boy who still believes Daddy is the King.

Scott Raab has found a home. A "Whore" has given him peace and given us a gift. And, at the end of his search, he doesn't find Lebron, but asks the King, who is now living in South Beach, if there is anyone to love but himself. "I wonder what it is that he thinks echoes in eternity. Triple doubles."

Dan Klores, a filmmaker, won the Peabody for 'Black Magic' and most recently directed 'Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks.' He is the "Mind over Media" columnist for Grantland.