The Whore of Akron: More Than Just a LeBron James Takedown

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The invective poets of ancient Rome had nothing on Scott Raab, author of The Whore of Akron: One Man’s Search For The Soul of LeBron James. It’s part unauthorized LeBron James biography, part personal memoir, all unabashed diatribe. At different times in Whore, Raab, a writer for Esquire, refers to James as a “mother——,” a “megalomaniacal s—heel,” and an “ass—-.” He wishes a career-ending injury on the ballplayer, who despite growing up in northeast Ohio famously left the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2010 for the star-studded Miami Heat. A Cleveland native who has suffered through 47 years without one of the city’s major pro sports teams winning a championship, Raab actually saves his most inventive vitriol for former Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, who moved that franchise from the shores of Lake Erie to Baltimore in 1995. “May he suffer another decade of strokes and spend an eternity tonguing Satan’s flaming anus,” Raab writes.

Is this all too sophomoric? Does it cross some kind of line to call James a “whore” and wish awful fates upon him? Maybe. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a pleasure (guilty or otherwise) to read. First of all, Raab is an inspired, energetic writer. When explaining why Cleveland has failed to attract top free-agent athletes, Raab hits it perfectly: “The weather is rugged. The economy is rugged. The women are rugged. For a young millionaire not named Bruce Wayne, the art museum and symphony don’t matter. The Cleveland Clinic doesn’t matter. The grit and guts that are supposed to make the underdog beloved don’t matter, either.”

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But it’s not like Raab is picking on James. He’s an equal opportunity offender, starting with his parents. Raab calls his mother a “harridan.” Of his father, who ditched the family early in Raab’s life, the author notes that “Sanford Raab is mourning his recently deceased second wife in the same way he honored her in life, by having sex with some floozy – in this case, a Romani bimbo who hit on him in a supermarket parking lot – who’ll steal every cent she can.” Raab grew up poor and essentially abandoned, and before catching on as a writer, was an alcoholic and drug addict. He writes honestly about his weight issues  (he calls himself a “land walrus”) and about tripping out on the Vicodin he needs to cope with overwhelming back pain. When you’ve overcome as much as Raab has, and are struggling with both physical and mental pain, like Raab seems to be, it’s hard to have much sympathy for a multi-millionaire like James.

As may be apparent, the Whore of Akron can be too revealing. The story didn’t need details of the bedroom activities of Raab and his wife. It really didn’t need a sizing up of James’ private parts (Raab snuck a peek at them in the Cleveland locker room). And a few of the darts are trite. Early in the book, Raab hurls a trio of outlandish insults at Modell. Third time around, they’re much less funny.

But these are minor quibbles, compared to the insights. Raab never talks to James at any length – once the Heat caught wind that Raab’s book would be less than flattering to James, the team refused to credential him to games — but his sharp eye, while trailing James in both Cleveland and Miami over the past two NBA seasons, makes up for his lack of access. For example the Cavs demurred to James’ every whim, even employing his personal assistant “officially in some security capacity,” Raab notes. “In reality, [the assistant] is James’s Minister of Ritual Handshakes.”

Raab scores an enlightening interview with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, whose infamous screed against James after he announced his decision to leave for Miami actually helped James’ butchered image. When Gilbert sits down with Raab at the end of March, the emotions are still raw. Gilbert tells Raab why he left his courtside seats at halftime of James’ first game in Cleveland as a member of the Heat, when he scored 38 points in a 118-90 blowout win. “I knew what the ass—- was doing, and I didn’t want to – sometimes I can lose my – he was taunting,” Gilbert says. “He was loving every second of it. I would not have gone after him, but I would have probably said and done some things that I would have regretted.”

Gilbert also regrets not compelling James to sign a long-term contract in 2007. Instead, Gilbert allowed James to sign a shorter, three-year deal that gave him an enormous amount of leverage; it forced the Cavs to go for a championship at all costs before James could leave. The team fell short of a title, and left themselves woefully undermanned once James did skip town. (Cleveland finished with a 19-63 record last season, and at one point lost an NBA-record 26 straight games). “When he said, ‘I’m signing for three years, we should’ve had the balls to say, ‘Shove it,’” Gilbert tells Raab. “He wouldn’t have left. He wasn’t prepared and ready to leave. We should’ve said, ‘F–k you. Go. Let’s see it.’”

At its core, and at its best, The Whore of Akron is a poignant exploration of sports fandom. It’s insane, to the point that a respected writer would call the former object of his sports affection a “whore” in his book’s title. And it’s also redeeming. Near the end of the book, Raab says he’s thankful that his own son isn’t emotionally invested in sports teams, like he is. “But I know another kid,” Raab writes, referring to his own experience, “back in Cleveland, fatherless, fat, and frightened, pissing into a Folger’s can at his grandparents’ house, living game to game because the games are all that makes his life seem worth his suffering.” After reading The Whore of Akron, you’ll be hard pressed to think sports don’t matter.

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