Monday, January 2, 2012

Bron Bomb

The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James by Scott Raab (2011): Scabrous, totally involving screed/lament by 59-year-old writer Raab about LeBron James, Cleveland sports, fandom, and the wonders of parenthood. NBA star (and Akron native) LeBron James put on one of the most baffling, horrible performances in sports history when he turned his 2010 free-agency decision into a one-hour ESPN show called The Decision.

There and then, after weeks of build-up, , he announced that he would leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, for whom he'd played his first seven professional seasons, for the nouveau-riche Miami Heat. LeBron is the central foil here, though Cleveland, sports fandom, fathers, and loyalty are Raab's larger themes.

Decaying, depopulating, Rust Belt Cleveland hasn't won a professional sports title since Jim Brown's Cleveland Browns did so in 1964. And then hometown hero James got drafted by the usually moribund Cleveland Cavaliers, with James soon becoming the best basketball player in the NBA. And then he left as a free agent, which might have been liveable without the televised spectacle of The Decision, a sporting event unimaginable until the last ten years -- a sporting event involving no actual sports but plenty of humiliation and hubris.

Raab decided to follow James's subsequent first year in Miami with the announced intention of writing a book. The Miami Heat soon made it clear they wouldn't grant him press credentials despite his twenty-five years of writing for magazines that include GQ and Esquire. Raab didn't care -- actually, the weaselly Miami PR people get skewered in the book along with everyone else. What would happen to Miami and LeBron at the end of that 2010-2011 season couldn't have been scripted: it was too ridiculous, too appropriate.

Raab writes with profane, obscene elegance and wit. This is, as the cliche goes, laugh-out-loud funny. But it also lays bare Raab's own demons with honesty and clarity, along with the (much) different demons of the celebrity and money-obsessed hellhole that American sports has become. Like Raab, I ended up feeling a wee bit sorry for the gormless, weightless manchild James, a basketball player whose ability to quit during a tough game baffles other great basketball players past and present. He's a grotesque, over-inflated Bartleby the Scrivener, only with more public whining and no self-knowledge. Highly recommended.

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