Although Scott Raab is known primarily for his Esquire Magazine profiles of Alex Rodriguez, Sean Penn and other celebrities, the Glen Ridge resident is a Clevelander to his very core. His stubborn belief in the Rust Belt city and its sports teams is proudly displayed in the Chief Wahoo branded on his beefy forearm honoring his beloved Indians.
Since watching the 1964 Browns win their last National Football League championship, Raab, 59, has endured 48 years of miserable Cleveland sports memories, each one seemingly worse than its predecessor. However, none evoked more venom than the night of July 8, 2010, when native Ohioan LeBron James hijacked ESPN for a self-aggrandizing special, announcing his plans to abandon Raab's beloved Cleveland Cavaliers to take his talents to South Beach and the Miami Heat.
Though his initial intent was to chronicle the Cavaliers' 2009-10 championship quest, Raab has unleashed his vitriol through “The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James” – his first book released Nov. 15, one every iota as angry and unapologetic as its title suggests.
“I'd like to say, 'Oh, it was cleansing. I've really come to terms with everything I've felt in terms of vitriol,'” Raab said. “I'd like to say that. It's not true.”
Although the title suggests Raab might provide a unique window into LeBron's soul, Raab could not score a one-on-one interview with the Akron, Ohio, native. In fact, the closest Raab came to an exclusive with James was following a game after a group of reporters dispersed, telling the player he was the best he ever watched.
Instead, “The Whore of Akron” becomes Raab's soapbox to vent about LeBron while opening wide the window into his own soul about overcoming addiction and mental illness in order to become a prolific writer and unapologetic family man devoted to his wife, Lisa, and son, Judah.
Although the premise of Raab's first book comes across as a sports-talk-radio caller gone off the deep end, he provides a clarity and intellect separating him from the masses ranting around the clock on WFAN.
The soul Raab found along the way is his own. He heals and redeems himself, while intertwining stories of squandered potential from both his younger days and Cleveland's recent sports history.
Although Raab celebrates his success through his family and writing career, there will always remain a lingering love/hate relationship with the Browns, Cavaliers and Indians. There is no ambiguity about his feelings toward LeBron: He delighted, as did fellow Clevelanders, in watching the star's failures during the 2011 NBA Finals while adopting the Dallas Mavericks as their team of choice.
“It seems laughable to me. There's something serious wrong,” Raab said. “And I don't think you have to be a LeBron hater to realize that the collapse in last year's. I've never singlehandledly seen a player cost his team a championship the way LeBron did in four games in last year's finals.”
Raab said he will forever root against LeBron to win a championship, although he says, “I'd never predict it.” He does offer a glimpse over how he and Clevelanders will finally let go of the last remnants of bitterness toward their former favorite son.
“Yeah, I do man,” Raab said. “It may sound glib, but if you think about it you'll understand: If any one of those teams could get it done at any point – the Indians, the Browns, the Cavs could win a championship – then LeBron is just reduced to another unhappy ending in the Cleveland sports story.”
Until then Raab, a Glen Ridge resident since 1999 who spent the previous three years in Bloomfield, will count Dec. 27, 1964, as his favorite Cleveland sports memory. He stood in the lower bowl of the since-demolished Cleveland Stadium on Dec. 27, 1964 – the book details how he carried the ticket stub in a Ziploc bag to show to Jim Brown and Cavaliers' owner Dan Gilbert – when the Browns beat the Colts for the NFL championship, unaware that a life of soul-crushing losses would fuel a fury that reached its tipping point when James skipped town.
“I like it here not least because it's not unlike Cleveland. The suburb we live in could be a Cleveland suburb,” Raab said. “New Jersey, as you know, doesn't get the respect it deserves like Cleveland.”
From the standpoint of lingering stereotypes, perhaps, the Garden State and Cleveland could be soulmates. Except for sports.