I understand suffering. I understand it on every level of my being, especially on the most trivial level of my being: the sports fan. This poor sap has lived and died with so many teams—many of them awful—that I assume defeat is the inevitable outcome of every contest, every season. The victories feel great, I guess, but somehow they never feel as real as the losses. Terrible attitude, I know, but that’s my existential lot.
That’s the “philosophy” I bring to Scott Raab’s The Whore of Akron, part scorched-earth wounded Cleveland fan diatribe against Lebron James, part gonzo memoir. Raab is a three hundred fifty pound Jewish, recovering substance abuser, loving family man, Esquire writer, Cleveland native, and always, always, always passionate. To quote Raab, “Being Jewish and being a Cleveland sports fan have always felt to me like the same thing.”
The apex of Raab’s Cleveland sports fan life happened in 1964 when as a ten-year-old he watched the Browns beat the Baltimore Colts to win the NFL championship. After that glorious, icy December day, the temple falls, never to be rebuilt. Raab, overweight, with a horrible family life, and prone to bad habits, threw his passion into rooting for the various Cleveland teams—the NFL Browns, the MLB Indians, and when they came along in 1970, the NBA’s Cavaliers.
He spent a lot of seasons rooting for bad, boring teams, and even when they were good, there was something—an icy wind; a World Series fielding error; Michael Jordan—that served as an impediment to Indians, Browns, Cavs bringing blighted Cleveland another championship banner. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, bringing Scott Raab another championship banner. For Cleveland, as portrayed here, is not just Raab’s home town it’s his psyche, if not his soul.
The center of Raab’s sports fan philosophy is what he calls, “The Dayenu Principle”—Dayenu, the Hebrew word that means, “It would have been enough for us,” also a traditional Passover song giving humble thanks to God for the deliverance from their slavery in Egypt. Raab’s “Dayenu Principle” as applied to the Cleveland sports fan (aka, Jewish and suffering Scott Raab: “I see little material difference between “Wait ’till next year” and “Next year in Jerusalem” and also,”(S)uffering is inescapable. To lose and lose and lose again is never loss enough. Time after time, with each Cleveland team, I have whispered ‘Dayenu’ to myself, bitterly, and felt that mystery of God trembling in the air, foul as rotted flesh.”
I hope such passages are meant to make the reader laugh, because I certainly did, but then, I’m a Jewish sports fan. As an aside, I know a sixty-something Jewish lifelong fan of the New York Yankees, who has seen many a World Series championship in his lifetime, and he still grouses about the team. What chance do the rest of us have?
The locus point of Raab’s suffering and ire in The Whore of Akron is Lebron James’s leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. We read of Raab’s misery as the Cavs make disappointingly early playoff exits to Orlando in 2009 and Boston 2010 when many (Raab included) thought they might win the whole thing. When Lebron peeled off his Cavs jersey for that final time after the playoff loss to Boston and hurled it, it’s as if that sweaty wad of laundry was hurled into Raab’s suffering Jewish Cleveland sports fan soul. And when Lebron made The Decision to take his talents to South Beach, the Temple fell, and Scott Raab was sent into exile…
Much of the book focuses on Raab’s year of wandering, following the Miami Heat as they go on their over-hyped tour through the NBA season. In due course, after Raab dubs Lebron James, “The Whore of Akron,” among other things, he is informed that he is not welcome at the Heat’s arena as a favored journalist. He pays his way in just like a regular schmo. A regular schmo with a slipped disc in his back, a recovering addict who resorts to prescribed Vicodin and Valium to get through his tour of Lebron stalking.
The Vicodin/Valium combo leads to the most absurd section of the book when after viewing a tweet in which Lebron attaches a picture of his personal chef’s peach cobbler, Raab imagines/hallucinates a three-way conversation between his dog, Lebron and himself. In truth it’s Raab interrogating himself about his past, and in the midst of this, imaginary Lebron states his case: I spit on nobody. I played my ass off for seven years. Those kids never once heard of me with drugs or guns or any of that stuff. Not once. Those were the best years that team ever had, and you judge me for leaving like it’s the worst crime ever committed.
I get a chuckle over the fact that imaginary Lebron makes the most reasonable point in this whole book, something Raab knows all along. Lebron’s worst “crime” was his tacky TV special to announce his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami— that he could have done that more professionally. Ah, the follies of youth—which Raab knows all too well. The fact that Raab understands this intellectually but refuses to accept it emotionally is what makes this book both entertaining and annoying. As a soul-baring, sports fan rant The Whore of Akron is an amusing, well-written book, but it’s also exhausting and frustrating. I had a pretty good time reading it, I’m just not certain who else I could recommend it to.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Cavaliers look to be awful for the foreseeable future…