Hi LeBron

by Scott Raab on September 26, 2014

Hi LeBron,

It’s me, Scott. Scott Raab. I think you might be aware of the book I wrote after The Decision. I dropped off one copy in late 2011 at your place in Bath and another at the LRMR office. I don’t know if you ever got them.

My bad on the book title. My agent hated it. My boss at Esquire magazine didn’t like it, either. But I grew up in Cleveland and I love the city and the teams, and like a lot of Cleveland fans, I was outraged about how you left the Cavs. Whatever your thinking was, and no matter how much money you raised for the Boys & Girls clubs, you personally disrespected the city and the fans who loved and supported you. So when it came to the title of the book, I spoke from my heart.

That’s the same way I read your Sports Illustrated essay — with my heart. What you said and how you said it lifted a lot of hearts, including mine. Your return is the best thing by far to happen to Cleveland — to the city, not just to one of its teams — in 50 years. I’m grateful to you. You made good in Miami and you came back home — as a player, as a dad, as a husband, as a son of Akron — to try to win a championship for all of us. I can’t think of a sweeter story.

So naturally I’m in town, to work on another book. I’m hoping it ends with me and my son at a parade here. (That’s the book I set out to write in 2009, during your last run as a Cavalier.) And if it doesn’t turn out that way, well, that’s fine, too. The story still feels noble, heroic. Mythic, really. Biblical, even.

Anyway, I wanted to give you a holler about this new book project. You’re in the middle of the Media Day scrum; I’m just down the road with a few boxes of donuts for my media pals. I did apply for a press credential, but the Cavs said no. No specific reason. I guess maybe they confused me with James Blair.

I also want to wish you and yours good luck and good health — it’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, 5775 — and, of course, a season that brings us to the Promised Land at last.

Best,

Scott

P.S. Feel free to stop by for a couple of donuts. You look thin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1. No question that Jimmy Haslam was right to say that he’d decide after this season about his future head coach and GM. Simply by dumping Mike Holmgren, he put Pat Shurmur on short notice. And by bringing in Joe Banner to replace Holmgren, Haslam effectively shit-canned Heckert, who didn’t work well with Banner when both were with the Eagles. Haslam’s actions said all that needed saying at the time he bought the team.

2. Game by game, Shurmur has pissed away any chance he ever had to hold on to his clipboard. You can bet that the search for his replacement is well underway.

3. As Shurmur’s game management and decision-making continue to cost the team a chance to win, any argument for keeping him through season’s end collapses. Judging a coach’s performance always comes down to two general questions: Does he get the most out of the talent on the roster? Does he put his players in a position to win? If you feel that the Browns’ 2-7 record truly reflects the level of talent on the roster, or that coaching is less to blame for that record than the players, Shurmur’s your guy.

4. I strongly doubt that a fellow like Jimmy Haslam buys the argument that losing games this season is a plus because it means higher draft picks. How any Browns fan can study the post-1999 history of the franchise and still say that losing leads to winning is way, way beyond me. Particularly in the NFL, winning teams find and develop talent no matter where they pick. Losing teams don’t.

5. The best reason to fire Shurmur NOW — the only reason necessary — is to make clear to the players and the fans that ownership won’t tolerate ongoing incompetence. Incompetence is without question the current hallmark of the franchise, and Pat Shurmur fully and publicly embodies it game after game after game.

6. Not that it matters, but Heckert surely has provided more evidence of his competence than Shurmur. Still, that bar is so low as to be meaningless, as is measuring Heckert’s draft performance against previous Browns’ GMs. In any pro sport, a superior GM is capable of articulating and enacting a specific vision of the path to winning championships, and building and guiding scouting and coaching staffs good enough to make it happen. I see very little evidence that Tom Heckert is that guy.

 

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MVP

by Scott Raab on May 13, 2012

When you write a book about LeBron James and call it The Whore of Akron, you also forfeit any claim to objectivity or fairness. Not only do I understand this, I embrace it. It never was fair to burden a  young athlete with the hopes and dreams of millions of Cleveland fans suffering a fifty-year case of blue balls. Nor is it fair to blame LeBron for the Cavs’ failure to win a championship during his tenure with the team; Danny Ferry’s flailing, Mike Brown’s fecklessness, the Mo Williams playoff horrow show, the Larry Hughes Experience — these things weren’t LeBron’s fault.

My loathing for him is a separate thing. It waxes in direct proportion to his on-court success, but it is fixed at a certain level by the greatness of his game: LeBron James is simply the best basketball player I’ve ever seen. Not the fiercest — to say the very least — and hardly the most successful, but the breadth and brilliance of his skills are, to these ancient eyes, unmatched. So it comes as no surprise that LeBron has won another MVP award, his third of the past four seasons. (Truth is, he deserved to win it last year, too.)

Likewise, it’s no surprise that the media — led, as ever, by ESPN, the unsleeping uber-brand spinning the wide world of sports into ’round-the-clock merchandise — is pushing the story of LeBron’s personal and professional redemption so hard. To Cavs fans, and to those writers who covered James during his years in Cleveland, the stories about how hard James worked on this or that aspect of his game over the summer long ago became an annual exercise in bullshit. As for the ‘I played with hate last year, but now I’m back to my old self’ nonsense spewed by King Shit himself, one look at his career stat line ought to be enough to blow away that smoke.

There’s nothing — absolutely nothing — about James’s numbers this year that isn’t perfectly in line with his entire career. His shooting percentage improved, primarily because he took far fewer 3-point shots; his assists-per-game average was the lowest he’s posted since six seasons ago, likely due to playing more often without Dwyane Wade; measured by Win Shares and PER, LeBron’s last two seasons in Cleveland were better than this year’s model. All the love/hate crap aside, James is now wrapping up his 9th NBA season, and he’ll turn 28 later this year. Yeah, he’s a marvelous talent. But to talk about him at this point as if he’s going to get better and better — or as if his drama-queen persona has suddenly calmed — is sheer public relations.

Meanwhile, LeBron’s epic choke in last year’s Finals has been reduced to a trope along the lines of “I didn’t play as well as I wanted to” or “I didn’t make as many big plays as I’m used to making for my team.” This isn’t understatement; it’s lunacy. James’s playoff collapse against the Mavericks was nothing short of historic, and, like his stats, was wholly in line with his vanishing act against Boston in his last playoff appearance for the Cavaliers.

I foolishly picked the Knicks to beat the Heat. I’ll go with the Pacers next, and so on. Not only because I want LeBron James to fail, but also because the Heat just aren’t solid enough to win it all. They lack a decent center and point guard. Their coach is a cipher. And their best player has a MVP statuette where his heart’s supposed to be.

 

 

 

 

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Tupac Lives

by Scott Raab on April 17, 2012

I’m pretty excited about this whole Tupac/hologram thing, and not just because it means that at some point in the near future, as the technology develops, I might actually have a shot at fulfilling my lifelong dream of boning Bea Arthur. Now that they’ve manged to create an image of Pac so lifelike and compelling that ‘he’ may actually tour, I can hope to repay a small debt I incurred two decades ago.

It happened in early November, 1994, when Tupac was starring with Mickey Rourke in a movie called Bullet. I was profiling Mick for GQ; it was Fashion Week in New York and when he wasn’t shooting on location in Brooklyn, Rourke was pseudo-stalking his estranged wife, supermodel and quasi-thespian Carre Otis, as she flounced through Manhattan. Rourke was a mess, professionally and personally; Shakur was shortly to be tried for sexual assault (and would soon catch five slugs in the lobby of an NYC recording studio, a capping he survived); and I wasn’t feeling so good myself.

I’d seen Tupac a couple of times during the week. I had only a nodding acquaintance with his biography and his work then. Whether out of deference or temperament, he was as quiet as Rourke was loud; each had his own small entourage, and each clearly liked the other. By week’s end, I’d gotten pretty much everything I could from Rourke in terms of interviews, but I wasn’t about to miss out on the chance to tag along to a strip club that Saturday night. The main event — aside from Rourke vanishing into a private room with one of the ‘dancers’ at one point in the evening — was the Michael Moorer-George Foreman heavyweight championship fight, shown on a huge screen behind the club’s stage.

Rourke, Tupac, and company took up most of the first row. For nine rounds, Moorer had his way with the 45-year-old Foreman, who resembled a tranquilized bear. In the tenth, Foreman caught Moorer on the chin with a short cannonball right, knocking him out clean. Mickey couldn’t have been more delighted; I can still hear him screaming, over and over, “Age don’t mean shit!” (He told me later he’d won thirty large betting on Foreman, a claim I found precisely as credible as everything else he’d said that week.)

From the strip club we head to a dance club, where — in a scene choreographed by their publicists and designed to keep them on the front page of the tabloids for one more day — Mickey finds Carre seated in his VIP section. She and her party leave for another region of the club and she sends up a tray of drinks, whereupon Mickey has Tupac deliver a bottle of Cristal to her. It is more than a little like high school, more than a little silly. When Tupac rejoins us, he pulls out a baggie of weed and begins rolling and smoking joint after joint. It’s too loud to talk, but not so loud that I can’t signal my willingness — nay, eagerness — to partake, and Tupac, may God rest his noble soul, seems happy to share.

I felt bad that I’d left my own stash at the hotel, mainly because it was vastly better than Tupac’s. But I’ll always be grateful to him for his kindness that night, and I hope someday I’ll get to buy his hologram a thank-you gift of some sort. I guess dinner’s out of the question.

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Chardon High School isn’t far from where I went to high school, and I’m also the father of a 12-year-old boy, so what’s happening in Chardon now is of intense interest to me. I’m heading there to to try to find out what happened and how it happened and — to the extent one human is allowed to speculate — why it happened.

Whenever shit like this goes down — what CNN has now offically labeled a ‘rampage’ — gun control becomes a focal point of controversy. I believe in the 2nd Amendment, strongly. I’ve owned a firearm for many years. But I’m hardly an absolutist when it comes to the right to bear arms, and I truly don’t understand why any sane citizen would want handguns and long guns to be treated alike. I was visiting a pal in Indiana a couple of weeks back, and we went to a gun-shop range for a half-hour, and I was reminded again of the obvious truth: The handgun is an excellent tool for killing a human being. Nothing more, nothing less.

I don’t know where TJ Lane, the shooter in Chardon, got his .22 semi-automatic pistol. But I do know how easy it is to buy a handgun. I also know how easy it is to fire one. And I know that Ohio’s Governor signed a law last year making it legal to carry concealed firearms into bars, malls, and arenas. Call me an elitist asshole, but anybody in Ohio who feels safer as a result is too fucking stupid to ever be trusted with any kind of gun.

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Writing

by Scott Raab on December 28, 2011

new apple keyboardI get asked for advice by young writers and never know what to offer beyond a few things that sound absurdly simple. I don’t want to be discouraging. I don’t want to be overly encouraging, either. Print may or may not be dying, but writing isn’t. People still want to become writers, hope to make a career of it, think of it as something special — all that jazz.

I think the fundamental force behind writing is passion. The writers I know are insane. They don’t know how NOT to write about stuff. It’s like pro athletes often say about their sport: They’d play for free. Writers love to write — and not because it’s easy. Getting it right isn’t easy at all, and that challenge is a big part of why writers love to write. It’s a high, working on your game, a way of being in the world that feels absolutely honest and true.

Anyone, especially in his or her twenties, saying ‘I have no time to write’ because of a job or anything else is full of crap. Writers write. If you can’t find time to write, don’t worry about becoming a writer. You’re not a writer. You’ll never be a writer. Find something else that lights you up.

Same with reading. Anybody who has no time to read isn’t a writer. All the work necessary to learn how to write boils down to reading and writing. This is not subtle or nuanced advice, obviously. I stress it here because of how often I talk to people who seem to think there’s a shortcut. I know no shortcuts. Luck counts, yes. Connections, too. But luck and connections won’t help if you’re not a good enough writer to take advantage of them.

The other factor is endurance. Endurance is a talent. Without endurance, I don’t think other talents mean much, not in a profession as uncertain as writing. Almost without exception, the chances to earn money and recognition come slow. If they do come quick, endurance is still required to build a career. The few writers I know who found relatively early success and kept it going weren’t just good writers; they worked even harder after making their bones.

Keep in mind, though, that this is just one guy’s way of thinking. I was selling columns to a weekly paper in Philadelphia for $40 a pop the year I turned 40. The best writer I know in Cleveland is nearly 60 and makes his living checking orders at a beverage warehouse. One of the best young writers I know in New York City works for a caterer full time. Maybe you can find someone else out there who can offer you some shortcut. Not me.

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That’s what the ‘analyst’ just said after a penalty flag was thrown for unnecessary roughness following a helmet-to-helmet hit on Thursday Night Football. The ‘analyst’ — part asshole, part cyst — was referring to the flag, not the hit. The hit? Old-time football, motherfucker. The flag? Pussification. This ain’t soccer, wimp. First they turn perfectly timed blows to the head into personal fouls, then they force socialized medicine down our throats. Fuck that Euroshit.

Me, I like socialized medicine. Love it. A society that allows huge corporations to regulate and market medical care while preaching ‘family values’ and jailing drug addicts instead of Wall Street buccaneers is naturally going to love the sort of sport that specializes in brain damage. Never mind the mounting number of concussions and the mountain of fresh evidence of their hideous effects. We like our gladiators fearless, and if they die young and demented, we’re fine with that. That’s a price we’re more than willing to let them pay for our entertainment.

Some of my favorite conversations have been with fathers of young sons who think it’s a good thing for 9- and 10-year-olds to play tackle football in full gear. They’re not worried about brain damage; they talk about football teaching their boys ‘how to compete.’

I wonder if they ever wonder how the species itself somehow managed to survive without football? Dumb luck, I guess.

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Bounty Hunter

by Scott Raab on December 14, 2011

That’s me. I’ll pay any credentialed member of the Cleveland media $100 for asking the following question of Pat Shurmur at one of Shurmur’s press conferences:

“Why would any Browns fan feel that you are a competent NFL head coach?”

The question must be asked in those words.

I’ll toss in a $50 bonus for eye-rolling during or immediately after Shurmur’s answer.

*****

While I’m at it, I’ll make the same offer to any credentialed member of the Miami media: You get $100 for asking LeBron James if he has read The Whore of Akron.

I’m biased, of course, but I find it fascinating — and revealing as hell — that not a single member of the pack of fanboys paid to cover every aspect of LeBron’s existence has had the cojones to ask him about a book that 1) was just published, 2) has been reviewed by Sports Illustrated, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, Time, Parade, and many other media outlets, and 3) examines the issues of villainy and regret that James himself has recently and repeatedly raised in his quest to rehabilitate his brand.

I’m not asking for free publicity, you lickspittles. I’m willing to buy it.

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Drew Gooden/Tim Tebow

by Scott Raab on December 12, 2011

I heard a lot of great stories while I was working on The Whore of Akron. The best one isn’t in the book. Its hero is Drew Gooden, who played with the Cavs for four seasons during the LeBron epoch, and it takes place on a road trip, when the Cavs’ charter lands in Toronto for a game against the Raptors.

As Jason Whitlock has noted, Toronto is known to many NBA players as ‘White Vegas,’ a place to party and get laid. Gooden, a sweet-natured fellow, though not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, was so looking forward to his visit that when the Canadian customs agent boarded the team’s plane and asked if anyone had anything to declare, Drew hollered, ‘YEAH — WE’RE HERE TO FUCK YOUR WOMEN.’

The way I heard it, the entire team then sat on the plane for a couple of hours, cooling their heels while the agent slowly searched everyone’s luggage.

*****

Because the only NFL team I actually care about is a joke, I don’t watch much football. But the Tim Tebow phenomenon is pretty compelling, not least because of the hostility toward him among folks who seem to find his professions of faith intolerable. Evanglism is essential to some Christian sects, and Tebow’s witnessing isn’t strange or singular. Because of his fame, he has been asked about his religion often, and every time I’ve heard him discuss it, he sounds like a nice young guy. The worst I can say about him is that I think he’s sincere in his delusions.

While watching him play against the Bears earlier, my twitter timeline was full of derision and loathing for him, most of it based on his religion, some of it from people who would be fighting mad if you accused them of bigotry. Yet I’m not sure what else to call it. It’s vile, it’s relentless, and it’s based on nothing more than the man’s faith in his version of God.

I’ve been called a ‘hater’ thousands of times for my feelings toward LeBron James, and I’ve heard from plenty of folks eager to ascribe my feelings to racism. It’s a conversation worth having, and I’ve enjoyed more than a few of them on the subject. I also understand that it’s far more palatable — and far less dangerous — to mock the majority culture. Still, much of what’s said about Tebow is brutally dumb and ugly, full of a profound ignorance and vicious contempt that say nothing about Tim Tebow, and a whole lot about the jagoffs saying it.

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Thanks

by Scott Raab on December 1, 2011

I started to take writing seriously when I was 11 years old. Never was interested in, or much good at, any craft, trade, or profession, but I never thought of writing as a career path. Until I was in my mid-thirties, the closest I ever came to journalism was my paper route; I wrote poetry and fiction. I got a degree in English, then a graduate degree in creative writing, and then a weird thing happened: I started writing a weekly editorial column for a college paper in Iowa City. I liked it right away, mainly because I suddenly had a much larger group of readers. It was a major rush, and it felt great.

lebron james booksI don’t usually think about readers when I write. Writing for me is both a way of figuring out what I think (and why) and also an ongoing effort to figure out how to tell a story. But that’s not an intellectual exercise or a ‘process’ or anything but one guy typing, so the less conscious I am of anything beyond the keyboard — readers, editors, my neighbor’s leaf blower — the better off I am.

Writing The Whore of Akron was different. I was conscious of a nation of Cleveland fans who are just as — maybe more — crazy, frustrated, hungry, and pissed off than I am. It wasn’t just about LeBron, who in a lot of ways is no more than another unhappy ending; it was also about a city that has been mocked, scorned, and pitied for decades. I knew  plenty of Clevelanders and expats would read it. I knew I was speaking for them, for better and for worse. I saw that as a privilege, and I took it more seriously than anything else about the book.

I’ve gotten a ton of love in return. Great letters — and not just from Cleveland fans — full of kindness, gratitude, and encouragement. I’m trying to answer those letters with more than a simple ‘thank you,’ and it’s going to take some time. Meanwhile, I wanted to say thanks in a more general way. To a writer and a Cleveland fan, nothing could mean more.

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