Archive for the ‘The LeBron Situation’ Category

LeBron International (Cleveland’s Eurotrip)

Monday, August 4th, 2014
Forget sausage legs on the beach. My bald head in Sicily.

Forget sausage legs on the beach. My bald head in Sicily.

I rounded the southern tip of Ortigia, the island city center of Siracusa, Sicily. Drinking in the sinking Ionian sun, I glanced to my left at a small sicilian boy rocking a Miami Heat hat. For a split second, my vacation euphoria was replaced by the dull ache of disgust. Then a beautiful thing happened. Almost immediately, the feeling gave way to an open-mouthed giggle that brought the boy’s eyes to mine. “Go Cavs!” I cheered. I don’t think he understood what I said. I didn’t care. What was more important to me in that moment was the realization that this time next year, another little boy’s hat would be displaying a Cavalier’s sword. Or even better, the word: Cleveland.


There and Back Again

Friday, July 11th, 2014

“I want kids in Northeast Ohio to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile.” -LeBron James

–I’ve noticed little things. He seemed more comfortable in his own skin. More resolute about his game. He respected his foes and disposed of them without fanfare. When he lost to the Spurs I was taken aback at how calm he was. He seemed genuinely happy for Tim Duncan. He made no excuses – the Spurs were superior. He praised their approach, which, really, would be his approach, if that were possible. That moment changed my rational characterization of LeBron James. And what a contrast. (My mind flashes to the Dirk coughing episode)–

I’m not sure how much LeBron changed between 2010 and today. But I do know that drastic and permanent change is possible in such a short timeframe. A man’s 20s is the most dynamic period of his life. The enormous transition from institutionalized childhood to the distorted lifestyles of higher education to family-building and career growth can occur in just four years. A 26-year-old can look back at his 22-year-old self and wonder how someone so dumb survived. And a 30-year-old can look back at his 26-year-old self and wonder how someone could believe he was so smart.


I am married with two children, was born in 1984, grew up on 80s cartoons, love video games, went to a Catholic High School in suburban NE Ohio, and I love basketball. Other than that, I don’t share much in common with LeBron James, I guess. There was only one constant during my tumultuous 20s – LeBron James in Cavalier garb. In 2003, when the Cavs won the lottery, I screamed up and down my dorm hallway like a madman (my freshman year).   LeBron and the Cavs set out on a journey. He was always there, growing, amidst a reshuffling of teammates, coaches, GMs, even owners. I was growing too, while I shuffled between rental housing, girlfriends, and internships. I was in school for 8 years. The week I was to defend my thesis was the same week the Cavs were eliminated in the 2010 playoffs. I was under so much stress that my body stopped digesting food. In less than a month I defended my thesis, started my career, and got married. During that same month, LeBron left Northeast Ohio and it was devastating.


I took me 4 years to emotionally purge The Decision from my psyche. The restlessness required to pen the following words:

“And LeBron’s “decision” would be the ultimate endorsement or indictment of our beloved home.”

had finally washed away. I was forced to realize that my family, my community, my faith, and the things I’d been building and growing were real, within my grasp, and requiring my dedication. Amazingly (I know), I transcended to a higher state of being – no longer requiring a stranger to affirm my city, my state, my team.  To the outsiders, I  “got over it.”


And now, much like that explosive month back in 2010, everything has changed again. I’ve come full circle. The cynic in me, never more insufferable than the last few nights, is being purged. LeBron James reminded me why I cared so much in the first place. He reminded me not to be ashamed of having a passion for, and drawing happiness from, a game.


This season has followed the most unpredictable sequences of events that I have ever witnessed. Since being dubbed the #seasonOfHuh by Ben Cox for now insignificant things like “struggling to inbound the ball”, it has raged out of control in a fiery inferno. The NBA landscape seems unrecognizable.   The Cavs winning the lottery with those miniscule odds seemed so utterly ridiculous at the end of that season. And now, LeBron James is returning to Northeast Ohio to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. (!)


And yet! They pale in comparison to the most remarkable thing of all. Despite all these events, despite all our incredulity, despite all the odds, despite LeBron coming home – something just happened that none of us, not even the most wildly imaginative, could have believed:


In less than 1000 words, LeBron James made everything right.




LeBron James is a Cavalier Again.

Friday, July 11th, 2014

LeBron James is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s official. LeBron gave an exclusive to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, in which LeBron said,

Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now…

I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy…

But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.

I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.

It’s what we’ve always wanted to LeBron to say, and how we’ve always wanted him to act. The next era of the Cleveland Cavaliers starts today. I’m happy for everyone who persevered with this team for so long. Enjoy yourselves, Cavs fans. Next season should be quite a ride.

What is the value of spite? A short musing on LeBron James, Cleveland, and this Girl I Used To Love Irrationally, by Ryan Braun:

Monday, February 13th, 2012

In “honor” of LeBron’s coming to town this week:

Now here we have an interesting dilemma, and I’d urge you to think it through before arriving at any, let’s say, decisions…

You know what? Let’s not even start with LeBron. Let’s start with a conveniently analogous anecdote.


When I was 22 (a year older than CTB’s own C.S. McGowan), the first girl I’d ever dated broke up with me. I’d made mistakes along the way — mixtapes are cute, but you better be a real lumberjack if you want to bookend one with Aladdin — still, the dumping seemed irrational. I was caring, attentive and I put out reasonably well for a nebbish, sexually-terrified faux-adult whose romantic repertoire prior to that relationship consisted of saying “I’m going to kiss you in 10 seconds,” and then counting down the remaining :09.

In spite of all that, she left me for a disinterested 28-year-old physical therapist.

It was brutal.

It was why, for months afterward, I refused to rehab anything professionally.

And it’s kind of related to the debate at hand.


Two weeks ago, I stumbled on Sam Amico’s now semi-dated article re: the prospects of LeBron returning to Cleveland, and it was that which got me thinking about this again (both the LeBron situation and my beautiful ex — the latter pictured below in a visual approximation).

I’m sure you’ve all read the story.

There is talk, Amico writes, that LeBron is discontent in Miami — “less-than-thrilled with certain aspects of the Heat organization.” It’s not Wade and Bosh, SA continues, it’s “the heavy-handed and disciplined style of Pat Riley.”

None of this is particularly substantive or surprising. That Brian Windhorst corroborated kept me from writing off the return possibility without first giving it some thought…but I did give it some thought and came to the conclusion that we’ll see Obama as governor of Mississippi before we see LeBron, as Windhorst speculates, back in Cleveland and honored with a statue.

To even get us to the precipice of a return would require not only Dan Gilbert’s acceptance of a LeBron reconciliation, but an apology from LeBron himself, plus a general admission of wrongdoing. In other words, LeBron would have to publicly take some responsibility for the split with Cleveland and at least in some capacity, publicly admit he may have done a thing or two to draw Gilbert’s ire.

None of the above is going to happen, and perhaps because of that, the likelihood of the above happening is not really what I’m interested in.

I’m interested in us.

I’m interested in what we might do if the situation presented itself.


When that girl broke up with me, I sulked pretty bad.

I didn’t leave the house for a week. My mom gave me a bell I could ring for ice cream and I just stayed in bed for the whole seven days. It wasn’t a good look for a 22-year-old, and about the only thing I gained from the wallowing was an abject certainty that Night Court was underrated.

I also made possible the taking of this picture:

Dark, dark days.

But then, as if forced to by my mother, the next Monday I got up and moved on with my life. I got a job as the production office intern for a movie filming locally and made such an impression delivering lunches that I was offered a job in Los Angeles, also delivering lunches.

My mom spent a week in bed with the ice cream bell, and then I left.

I won’t say my motivation was to become a famous actor solely to spite the girl who’d left me… but I will write it.

My motivation for moving was to become a famous actor solely to spite this girl who’d dumped me.

I’d never acted.

I’d never been to Los Angeles.

It was a healthy and financially pragmatic move.

But it did do one thing; it allowed me the time and the space to recover. It allowed me to move on with my life. It allowed me to start anew (and/or metaphorically draft Kyrie Irving depending on where you are in the analogy.).

Within three years, I was shopping at Whole Foods and driving a Prius. I was still delivering lunches, but now they were fancy.

I didn’t see that girl again for three years, and I really wasn’t planning on initiating anything ever again until she emailed me one day totally out of the blue…to see how I was doing, to see “how life was treating me,” and to see if I’d be attending the wedding of one of our college friends in a couple of months.

And so we started talking, and reminiscing, and telling each other that there were no hard feelings.

I said I’d be going to the wedding and staying in the recommended hotel.

She asked me what floor I was staying on.


My biggest issue with the sports fan of the 21st century is the following: With very few exceptions, the 21st century sports fan is f’ing fickle! I haven’t been alive long enough to definitively state that things haven’t always been this way…but I’m pretty sure that things haven’t always been this way.

Sports have become a mixed bag of opportunism and sentimentality, admittedly for me as much as anyone. I mourned the departure of Big Z, but in no way did I take issue with his trade. I’ve despised the high-profile player movement of the past few years, but I’m the same guy who was pitching Dwight Howard to Cleveland last week.

And now, in analyzing the tenets of immediate gratification (something that, again, I seek as much as anyone)…I’m starting to wonder at what point will opportunism snuff out the sentimentality that gives sports its heart in the first place? And if that’s a possibility, how far gone are we already?

From the booing of home teams in even the most hallowed of locales (its happening from Cleveland to Green Bay), to the relatively crass pursuit of big-time free-agents in every major sport (again, Dwight Howard), I feel like the opportunism is taking over. This is probably a positive in the NFL-ian way that it keeps everything interesting for everyone always…but it’s not so good in the crafting of true loyalty, of true fans, and ultimately, of the lovable “throwback” players we keep pining for.

There’s a romantic (if idealistic) group of sports fans craving a better kind of athlete.

I think in order to facilitate that, we may need a better kind of fan.

Someone for whom opportunism is not the priority.


That said, I totally get why it is.

We’re back at the reception now and I’ve had four glasses of wine plus I really can’t hold my liquor (At all. That “I’m drunk” picture came after a lone White Russian.) and the/that/my girl is looking more pretty than is probably appropriate at a wedding with a bride.

I asked her how her grad school was going and she told me about her residency.

She asked me how my acting was going and I told her about my appearance in a Swedish life insurance commercial.

And then we just stared at each other for a moment…after which time she asked me if I wanted to see some of the things she’d learned in medical school.

I’ve never been hit on in my life…except for potentially that.

“What floor are you on?”

My floor.

Jim Gray walks in and he sets up the camera.

I am not a role model.


What would you say to LeBron James if he asked to come back (and/or asked you up to room 304)?

First remove the backdrop of improbability, and then, with as much hypothetical honesty as you can muster, ask yourself what would you do if the only thing standing between a 29-year-old LeBron returning to Cleveland, returning to a team featuring an abundance of young talent, a blooming superstar in Kyrie Irving, and potentially another in Harrison Kidd-Davis, was you…

What would you do if the only thing standing between a Cleveland team and a 3-4 year championship run was the return of LeBron James?

In that very specific case (coincidentally, an amplified version of so many other cases)… what is the value of spite, and in how much of that spite lies your credibility as a sports fan (or in my case, as a man in general)? In how much of it lies your ability/right to enjoy a championship?

When LeBron James left for Miami, he was most roundly criticized for copping out.

We’d hoped he’d be the greatest player of the past twenty years, and instead he ended up choosing to play with his only real rival in the league while complaining about “the pressure of going out, scoring 30 every night.”

“Championships are championships,” LeBron ultimately said. The ends justify the means, because presumably, no one remembers the means.

If history proves him right (and while I sincerely hope that won’t be the case, I do realize it might be), would you be willing to sacrifice championship ends for a means that ultimately may not be remembered?

I think the obvious answer is, “Yes, of course. Pride over title any day of the week.”

And I think that’s what I’d want to say… I just hope I’d say it.

I spent my fourth year in Los Angeles listening to way too much Aladdin.

AWARDS WATCH (39.4% of the way through the season):

NBA MVP – LeBron James, SF, Miami Heat (27.9 ppg, 8.2 reb, 6.9 ast). The real purpose of this article was to compare LeBron James to a girl (WIN)…unfortunately, that girl is playing about three levels higher than anyone else is this season. I don’t know if he’s recovered enough good will to actually win MVP, but he clearly should if Miami ends up anywhere near the top of the league. Along those lines, the Heat are a game back of the Bulls and Thunder right now and while he’s tailed off a bit lately, LeBron has been dominant in keeping the Heat afloat despite inconsitent assistance from Dwyane Wade.

CAVALIER MVP – Andy Varejao, PF/C (10.8 ppg, 11.5 reb, 1.7 ast). I’m in the camp that wants a better draft pick and I still thought the Varejao injury was devastating. Andy’s been playing at an All-Star level all year, and to see that momentum interrupted by such a fluky play is immensely frustrating. Silver lining: There’ll be a lot less pressure on him when we land Anthony Davis.

NBA COY– Doug Collins, Philadelphia 76ers. I don’t think the Sixers are a threat in the East, but boy are they are fun to watch. They’re young, they’re well-rounded and they share the ball. I fear they’ll end up a well-constructed team held back by lack of star power…  but in the meantime, much of the credit for their resurgence should go to Collins.

CAVALIER COY – Byron Scott. I’ve made jokes every week about Byron’s lack of competition for this spot, but in truth I’m really impressed with the job he’s done this year. The games we’ve not competed have been few and far between, and the development of our youth (by far the season’s most important facet) seems to be going remarkably well. Tristan Thompson may have plateaued, but Kyrie Irving and Alonzo Gee get better with each passing week.

CO-NBA ROY – Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves (10.9 ppg, 4.5 reb, 8.7 ast) & Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers (18.0 ppg, 3.5 reb, 5.1 ast). I still think Kyrie’s the better player, but with KI missing a few games courtesy of Dwyane Wade’s knee I think it’s fair that Rubio be acknowledged as well. Ricky’s shooting is a substantial limitation, but it’s one some other stars share. It’s striking how much of his game resembles Rondo’s. Rubio is such a good set-up man and he’s far more active defensively than I initially gave him credit for. Ultimately, I don’t know if I see the athleticism to make up for his inability to shoot comfortably from the perimeter…but if he carves out a niche as a poor man’s Jason Kidd/Rondo, I think Minnesota will deal.

CAVALIER ROY – Kyrie Irving, PG. Since I last did this, Kyrie’s started winning games down the stretch single-handedly. It’s been kind of astonishing to watch. I don’t know if he can make the type of jump LeBron did from Year One to Year Two, but he also might not have as much distance to travel. If he can condition himself to the point where he can run (really run) 36 minutes a game… we’ll all have to reassess what his ceiling might be.


Ryan Braun writes at, and posts a picture with an article once every two Sundays (which he often does barely and by PST technicality). He appreciates your reading, and also you in general.

Interview With Scott Raab about “The Whore of Akron”

Monday, November 14th, 2011

The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James

The following is an interview with Scott Raab, whose book, “The Whore of Akron: One Man’s Search for the Soul of LeBron James” comes out today. I reviewed the book on this site. The link to buy the book is here.

1) I’ll start you out with an easy one — you’re well-known as a fantastic profile writer. How does it feel to be on the other side of interviews now that this book is coming out and you’ve developed your own cult of personality?

To the extent that I think about it, which is not much, it feels all right. I’m troubled sometimes by being judged by my tweets alone, or by a cherry-picked sentence or two from the book or a blog post when I have a 25-year-old, million-word paper trail, so I want to do as many interviews as I can to support the book. It isn’t a 300-page tweet; it isn’t a basketball or sports book per se; it isn’t an easy book to categorize. When I began to write non-fiction — I came up as a poet and short-story writer — it was as an editorial columnist in Iowa City, a college town. That was my first experience of the cult-of-personality thing, and I think and hope that I learned then not to take it seriously in terms of self. I like to write. I write to be read. And I want lots of people to react to what I write. And just like when I’m writing, when someone’s interviewing me, I want to be as clear and truthful as possible while having as much fun as the law or my editors allow.

2) This book is much more about you than a lot of the publicity materials would lead one to believe. At what point during the research and writing of your book did you realize that it was going to end up being such a personal story, and how did you try and balance the “journalistic” elements of the book with the more autobiographical elements?

I didn’t realize it fully until early this past summer, when the NBAseason ended and my big push to the finish line began. For a long time before that, I thought the book would feature a range of Cleveland fans sharing their stories, but even as a celebrity profiler, I’m a first-person writer most times out. My experience of the past season, as a Cavs fan and a Heat hater, was intensely personal. And a pair of questions came to seem more and more crucial: How did I come to be so fanatical in the first place, and why was I so deeply enraged by every aspect of The Decision?

As for ‘balance,’ that’s essentially an objectivity/subjectivity question, and all such questions boil down to bull[expletive]. The idea that journalists who don’t overtly insert themselves into the stories they write are somehow more honest and trustworthy narrators is nonsense. The straightest-shooting reporter makes a series of decisions in the course of his reporting and writing based upon his own unique personal history and belief system. Plenty of readers and plenty of editors mistrust and dislike first-person writing and feel uneasy when a writer uses himself as a character — to me, that’s merely a matter of taste, not truth, especially when it comes to exploring subjects like loyalty, rage, and love, and their relationship to sports.

3) In your most recent blog post, you expressed some (to use a euphemism) disappointment that nobody who had an issue with you wishing a career-ending injury on LeBron James in the excerpt of your book published in Esquire and other places contacted you about it. So I’m asking you — why did you wish a career-ending injury on LeBron James? Looking back on it, do you feel you were justified in doing so? Do you hope he trips over his kitchen counter tomorrow and suffers a career-ending injury? Finally, is it reasonable to expect that other people should have to contact you personally before judging your work?

I would prefer not to see LeBron ever win an NBA championship. Strongly. That’s the ‘why.’

The wishing-injury thing pops up a couple of times in the book; I believe I felt it most viscerally when I saw him take the court at the Heat’s home opener last season. I don’t think ‘justified’ has anything to do with it; perhaps it would if I had Carrie-like powers. Everyone gets to define the differences between being a fan and being a fanatic for himself. I’ve been to sporting events in Cleveland and elsewhere when fans have cheered an injury to a player on the home team, and I heard such wishes spoken aloud — shouted, actually — at Cleveland Browns Stadium last season when Jake Delhomme was Eric Mangini’s starting QB against Carolina. Doesn’t justify a thing, doesn’t make it right, doesn’t mean shit in terms of morality. Don’t bother to claim that you’re a fan if you have never wished for such a thing. Don’t tell me that you grasp human nature, or the history of sport in societies all over the world for thousands of years, if you think this kind of thing is beyond the pale. Don’t tell yourself you have any sense of perspective, humor, or decency if this leads you to believe — as do plenty of my correspondents in Miami and other places — that I’m a stalker or in any way a threat to anyone, including LeBron James. These aren’t discussions I’m willing to waste much time on, or folks I wish to engage.

We’re not talking about ‘other people’ judging my work; we’re talking about journalists writing about a semi-public figure: me. I’m not hard to find, unless you’re too lazy or frightened to try. And by the way, this sort of thing — riffing rather than reporting — is chronic in the blogoshpere, where too many writers who want to be taken seriously have no idea how unprofessional they seem. Nothing wrong with an opinion column, but if you’re going to dismiss my work on the basis of my tweets, or one line in an Esquire excerpt, I don’t think it’s too much to ask of a fellow journalist to pick up the [expletive] phone or shoot me a post and ask a question or two.

4) A paradox present in this book seems to be that you spend so much time trying to work through your past addiction issues, your fear of relapse, your self-image, your past and present relationships, everything, and by the time we get to the end of the book, we sense that you have an ultimately healthy but very complicated relationship with yourself, and one that took a lot of time to make work. Yet your feelings towards LeBron seem to be a relatively straightforward “screw this guy.”

Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: how do you want people who read this book to see you, and how do you want them to see LeBron? I feel like the answer to the latter part of that is fairly straightforward, so I’ll clarify it: is the primary goal of this book  trying to make more people hate LeBron, or hate him more than they already do, or to make them understand why you hate him so much?

By book’s end, I’m addressing James directly about some of life’s larger issues, particularly about his notion that winning championships was going to be easy. (I don’t know if what you read was an earlier galley, where the book’s ending wasn’t as tuned as it wound up being.) I’m talking to him about the absence of anyone like a father in his life, someone who might’ve tested and mentored him in ways that dads, uncles, and older brothers do. I’m talking to him. In the book. As if he were my son. It may not work for the reader, but it isn’t ‘screw you’ in my eyes.

As for how I want people to see me or LeBron, I never set out to be the leader of a mob, despite my twitter timeline. I truly don’t care how people see me. I’m a writer, which is to say that I want folks to read the book and enjoy it. I’m certainly not trying to convert anyone. I do think the story of Cleveland fanhood is worthy, unique, and undertold. And while I didn’t harp on it, LeBron is just one more unhappy ending, nothing more. Maybe a little more, in the sense that he clearly made a big difference in how people felt about Cleveland, and how Clevelanders felt about their city, not only because he’s a great basketball player, but also because the native-son narrative was so appealing. Plenty of NBA fans with no special love for Cleveland or the Cavs ‘hate’ LeBron, thanks to The Decision; I’m not trying to recruit those who still like and admire him. I respect their opinions’ as long as they’re not calling me names.

5) In your book, you praise how Z left Cleveland with a classy thank-you letter in the Plain Dealer, but make no mention of Mo Williams’ twitter pleas not to be traded and twitter proclamation of love for Dan Gilbert — instead, you only describe your elation when you heard that Mo had been traded. You present “The Decision” as the opposite of what Z did, which in many ways it was — was there a way that LeBron could handled his departure that would have prevented you from hating him? To add on to that, was it LeBron’s decision to leave the Cavaliers, his decision to join Wade and Bosh in South Beach, or “The Decision” itself that made you the most angry?

1. Mo surely deserves better than he got from me. He’s a sad figure. I always had trouble with Earnest Byner, too, after The Fumble. I try not to overthink this stuff, even when I’m writing about it. My basic position is, fuck ‘Regular Season Mo’ and his pleading. Good riddance to bad rubbish. Let him write his own [expletive] book.

2. Had LeBron led the Cavs to an NBA championship and left as a free agent, I don’t think I would’ve had a problem with that beyond sadness. (I think it’s vital to add that I don’t hold him responsible for the Cavs failure to do so; he wasn’t in the front office or on the coaching staff.) I can’t imagine feeling hatred toward him under those circumstances. Gratitude, yes. But other than leading the team to a title, there’s no way he could’ve handled his departure without leaving me feeling betrayed and enraged. (And nobody could convince me that the Cavs would NOT have won at least one NBA championship had he stayed.)

3. The Decision made me most angry, by far. Had he and his minions intended to disgrace Cleveland and themselves, they couldn’t have done a better job.

6) Your book is about a lot of things — Your present, your past, Cleveland’s past, Cleveland’s present, sports, family, addiction, and everything else. In your own words, why do you think your abiding hatred for LeBron James was able to bring all of those things together into a 300-page book? Would you describe your feelings towards LeBron as a personal vendetta, or an extension of your devotion to Cleveland sports and his lack of devotion to them? Did LeBron’s post-finals quote, about how much better his life is than the lives of those who hate him, provide a kind of justification for your antipathy towards LeBron on a personal level?

1. I have no idea how to answer the question that begins ‘why do you think’ in any sensible way. When I write 200-300 word pieces for Esquire, an editor will sometimes ask me what I’m going to say. The only answer I’ve ever been able to give is, “Let me surprise us both.” That’s what I love about writing. The book came as a huge surprise to me in every way, especially the writing of it. But I honestly don’t think it was the result of my ‘abiding hatred for LeBron’ that was the trigger; it was my lifelong love of Cleveland and the Cavs, Indians, and Browns. Which pretty much answers the second question: to the extent that I have a ‘personal vendetta,’ it derives entirely from my passion for the city and its teams.

2. Justification, shmustification. I don’t need no stinking justification for my feelings. And no one who knows me would ever think that I’d wish to trade lives with LeBron James, even for a day.

7) Alright, I’ll let you go after this question — assuming (optimistically) the NBA season starts in mid-december, what are three things you’d like to see happen over the course of the regular season and the playoffs?

1. I’d like to see Kyrie and TT emerge as the greatest rookie tandem in NBA history.

2. I’d like to hear Mike Brown talk about how grateful he is to Kobe for letting Mike coach him, the same way he used to talk about LeBron.

3. I’d like to — you’re just baiting me, aren’t you, Krolik? — witness LeBron James continue to succeed wildly at failure. Whatever form that takes.

Review: “The Whore of Akron: One Man’s Search for the Soul of LeBron James” by Scott Raab

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Full Disclosure: Scott Raab and I have had a mutual admiration and respect for one another’s work for some time now, and my name does appear in the “acknowledgments” section at the back of the book I am about to review, which I consider a very substantial honor.

Additional Disclosure: As pretty much all of you know by now, I do not have any feelings of visceral hatred towards LeBron James, and my last basketball post of substantial length was a piece about LeBron James for the Heat Index. As Raab makes clear in his book, he is not a fan of LeBron or the Heat Index. I would hope that everybody who reads this review and/or the book will judge them on their own merits, but I wanted to discuss the elephants in the room before going forward.

I had my fears about The Whore of Akron. (My apologies for not italicizing the title of the book in the title of this post — I can’t make italics in a title, for reasons beyond my comprehension.) Taking potshots at LeBron James has been a national pastime for well over a year, and I’m always wary when a journalist makes himself a part of the story he’s covering, the way Scott Raab (and his infamous Twitter account) did with LeBron over the course of last season. Basically, I was afraid this would be like Joe McGinniss’ The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin, but with more luscious descriptions of missed jumpers.

(I am NO fan of Sarah Palin. She terrifies me.  Even so, I also didn’t have much interest in McGinniss’ book, which reviews painted as an orgy vicious character attacks from unnamed sources, complete with McGinnis making himself a part of the story by incorporating his public feud with the Palin clan after he moved in next to them while researching his book — even though I feel McGinniss’ portrait of Palin is probably more right than wrong, his book wasn’t something I was interested in curling up with. Now, back into shallower waters before I drown.)

Raab does not merely insert himself into The Whore of Akron — he absolutely envelops it. This is not a book about LeBron James — it is a book about Scott Raab.

And thank the lord for that, because Raab is infinitely more compelling as both a protagonist and an antagonist than the character LeBron James plays on TV and in press conferences ever has been.

I’ve read countless sports books over the course of my life, and The Whore of Akron was the fourth book I have read about LeBron James. (I skipped LeBron’s Dream Team, nee Shooting Stars; the fact that its author actively loathes LeBron now made me suspicious of the book, but mostly I had no interest in reading a re-hash of how great of an idea it was for LeBron to have his high-school friends run his life. None whatsoever.)

Anyways, the point of all this is that Raab’s book is nothing like any LeBron book or athlete biography (even Michael Leahy’s scathing When Nothing Else Matters, which chronicled Michael Jordan’s fiasco of a comeback with the Wizards)  I’ve ever read, and bears little resemblance to any sports book I’ve ever read. In fact, the book is far more similar to Charles Bukowski’s Hollywood than it is to anything David Halberstam or John Feinstein has ever written.

The similarities between Bukowski’s Roman a clef and Raab’s LeBron sans clef can be hard to miss: both Raab and Bukowski are outsiders from tough backgrounds who began their professional writing careers late in their lives, after long periods of intense substance abuse. Both are gleefully vulgar, and both Hollywood and The Whore of Akron feature them in their Autumn/Winter years (Raab was 59 when he wrote The Whore of Akron, Bukowski 68 when he wrote Hollywood), and both books were written after their writers had settled down and became domesticated. Both Bukowski and Raab’s books feature a second wife who takes exemplary care of them, which both men are eternally grateful for.

Both books are classic fish-out-of water stories: Bukowski was a novelist and poet with an unrelenting love for the “rough” parts of Los Angeles thrown into the world of Hollywood to write a screenplay, and Raab is a hard-core sports fan and accomplished magazine writer with an unrelenting love for Cleveland, warts and all, thrown into the world of South Beach in order to write his first book, and a nonfiction book about sports as well.

Raab’s book is also a post-sports blog creation — it would have been almost impossible to imagine a writer of Raab’s stature writing a full-length sports book with so many declarations of loyalty to a team and a city, so much hatred directed at those who he felt betrayed his city, the aforementioned bursts of profanity, so many autobiographical anecdotes, and some unsourced rumors thrown in for good measure — some are presented as rumors, some are presented as fact, some are 100% believable, and some are tough to take without a grain (or shaker) of salt. It is a book written without access, favor to the players who gave him access, or discretion — the Deadspin credo. On top of everything else, The Whore of Akron may be the first full-length book produced by a successful mainstream writer in the blog era.

Raab’s prose is frenetic and unrelenting. His paragraphs are a pastiche of highfalutin language and lush imagery, the frank, vulgar speech of someone who considers himself a proud immigrant and outsider, Yiddish words, their meanings, and whimsical bursts of stunning profanity. (By page 14, the phrase “may he spend eternity tonguing Satan’s flaming anus” has already appeared, and the “he” in question isn’t even LeBron. Also, that is perhaps the most printable insult in the book’s 300 pages. Also, that’s only half of the insult.)

Raab’s book, much like his prose, is frenetic, which serves it well. Raab is capable of shifting his topics and his tone at blinding speeds. Raab talks about his hard upbringing, his strained relationship with his family, his struggles with addiction and the years he lost to it, extreme weight gain, and his own issues with self-loathing. Then, right after a passage full of that self-loathing and — gasp! — something approaching genuine empathy for LeBron, who after all was thrown into all of this as a teenager, grew up with no father and a mother who, in Raab’s eyes, is something of a train wreck, Raab will go right back to tearing into LeBron, and admitting how good it made him feel to see a “Scott Raab is the man” sign at the Q when the Heat came to town.

Then he’ll talk about his love for the city of Cleveland, particularly its sports teams, and the joy, hope, and misery they have brought him and those he has known over the years. He was there in the stadium when the Browns won Cleveland’s last major sports title in 1964, and he makes it clear in his book that he has been chasing that high for the past 47 years, and believes that the feeling the Browns gave him that Sunday is what will make Cleveland whole again. Then he’ll talk about his genuine love for his wife and son, which provides some extremely heartwarming passages, before going back to talking about the depths of his hatred for a 26-year old multimillionaire who happens to be one of the most gifted athletes of all time. Then it’s back to a tense scene at dinner with his mother or at his nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. And it goes on like that, with the only constant throughout the book being that it’s nearly impossible to put down.

1,000 words in, it’s time to stop dicking around. The Whore of Akron is about three things.

First of all, the book is a chronicle of LeBron James’ final 1.5 seasons in Cleveland, and his first season in Miami, with some bits about the history of Cleveland sports thrown in for context. Raab does an excellent job of keeping a clear timeline of the last two years in LeBron , his stellar play in the 2009 Orlando series, which was marred by Mo Williams’ inability to make an open jump shot, his erratic play in the 2010 Boston series, which was notable for an elbow injury that may or may not have been real and a will to win that may or may not have been present, the Heat’s ups and downs through the regular season, and the Cavs’ downs, plummets, and slight upward turns during their own regular season. The timeline ends, of course, with LeBron choking away the NBA Finals. I don’t think I’m spoiling the book for anybody when I say that Raab found satisfaction in the way the 2010-11 season ended.

I found Raab’s basketball analysis particularly astute, although that may admittedly be because I agree with so much of it — he had no love for Mo Williams’ aversion to defense and tendency to shrink in big games, he adored the pitbull that was the Delonte West of 2008-09, and despite his personal vendetta against LeBron and the team he ended up joining, he maintains an appropriate level of respect for what LeBron and his Miami teammates are capable of doing on the basketball court.

What may surprise some people about Raab’s fandom is how ruthless he can be. Raab, who publicly swore off rooting for LeBron James after he wore a Yankee cap to Jacobs Field, adopted an “he’s a jerk, but he’s our jerk, and he’s going to get us a title” attitude when the Cavaliers became legitimate title contenders. As I previously mentioned, he has no love for Mo Williams, despite his public pleas not to be traded at the deadline and his proclamation of love for Dan Gilbert, whom Raab clearly likes a great deal. He has never forgiven Sam Rutigliano for hugging Brian Sipe after Red Right 88 happened. His remarks about how the Cavaliers played during and after LeBron’s first return to the Q are as scathing as anything he writes about the Heat throughout the book.

In Raab’s mind, players are public employees who have an obligation to serve the community by helping the team win, and who they are “personally” is immaterial — if given a choice between a Senator who can help his constituents while philandering and doing drugs and one who is a hapless boy scout, the sports fan in Raab would undoubtedly go with the former. (If you think it is ludicrous to compare the importance of a U.S. Senator to the star of a local sports team, you simply do not understand the depths of Mr.Raab’s passion for Cleveland sports.)

The second thing The Whore of Akron is about is Scott Raab, and the sections of the book Raab devotes to himself are spellbinding. Raab opens up about his family, his addictions, what his actions have done to his body, how he had to fight relapse after being prescribed pills to dull the pain his demons have caused him, his self-loathing, his Jewish roots, his time spent as a drug-dealing vagabond who stole from vending machines, and much more. Raab never lays anything on too thick — the manic energy of his prose keeps him from veering into melodrama at any point — but he takes readers to some extremely dark places, and some passages are legitimately difficult to read.

The third thing The Whore of Akron is about is Scott Raab’s search for LeBron James’ soul. A search for LeBron’s soul is akin to a search for Jimmy Hoffa’s corpse — it’s there somewhere, but woe betide the poor soul who tries to hide where it’s been hidden. LeBron is opaque, a closed book, a cipher — since LeBron has carefully prevented himself from committing to an actual public personality, what people say about LeBron James ultimately says far more about the person saying it than it does about LeBron. Think LeBron’s the best player in the league, despite the crunch time “issues?” (Yes, that was a euphemism. He choked away the freaking Finals.) Then you’re an empiricist to the core. Think LeBron doesn’t deserve to be mentioned among the game’s best players, because he lacks something that players fundamentally must have inside them to win? Then you’re a true “purist.” Look at LeBron and see his drives, passes, and outside shooting? You’re an optimist. See his post game? You’re a pessimist. Et cetera.

So what does a 59-year old  writer, husband, and father’s unyielding, undying, and uncompromising hatred of a 26-year old man-child say about the older man, particularly when the 26-year old has broken no laws, the older man spent most of his 20s and 30s, by his own free admission, getting loaded and doing some horrible things? (This is a paradox Raab addresses in the book, and quite well, so please don’t read the preceding as an attack on Mr. Raab.) From everything we know about Mr. Raab and Mr. James, why does Mr. Raab get to be the protagonist of his own book?

I have two main thoughts on this, and then I promise to wrap things up. When reading Mr. Raab’s accounts of his own past and present issues and violations, I am reminded of something Roger Ebert said about Paul Giamatti’s character in Sideways, who managed to gain our sympathy despite being a pretentious, pathetic, acerbic,  condescending, pretentious, self-pitying alcoholic who actually steals from his own mother — “we forgive him his trespasses, for he trespasses most of all against himself.” Mr. Raab carries the burden of all that he has done, all that he has said, and all that he has consumed over the years with him, and spends much of the book describing the penance he pays for it, whether it’s having to wear Crocs, request a seat-belt extension, get banned from the Heat’s media row after some 140-character bursts of rage, or have to come to terms with the way he spent his younger years. Raab doesn’t come across as a miserable person by the end of his book, but he does come across as someone who has had to earn every shred of his own happiness.

Raab, in other words, shows a self-awareness and sense of personal responsibility that LeBron has never shown — we do not forgive LeBron because, while he has trespassed upon others, he appears to have never consciously trespassed upon himself. After each close defeat, after each playoff exit, after the PR nightmare that was “The Decision,” LeBron, at least to us, went to bed every night happy knowing he’d wake up, be 6’9, built like a god, and the most talented basketball player on the planet, that he’d have enough money for 10 lifetimes, that he’d get to spend his free time doing whatever business he wanted to do with his best friends, that he had two healthy children and a devoted life partner.

He made that clear when he played his last NBA game to date, and gave Mr. Raab the money quote he needed to justify his loathing of LeBron after two and a half years of researching a book about him and nearly a full year of hating him with every last fiber of his being: the instantly-infamous quote about how, win or lose, LeBron James’ life would still be better the next day than the lives of the people who enjoyed watching him fail. Even at LeBron’s lowest moment, his absolute lowest moment, the moment where he let down almost everyone who had ever supported for the second time in less than 12 months, he found himself completely unable to look in the mirror and see anything wrong. How can anybody, let alone Mr. Raab, forgive anybody who has so steadfastly refused to acknowledge that he might need to be forgiven for something?

There’s something else in that post-finals quote from James that provides a window into Raab’s hatred of James, which for much of the book is presented more as a postulate than a theorem — James’ refusal to acknowledge the relationship between the team and those who follow it, or root for its rivals to fail, which Raab sees as sacred.

How, Raab seems to continually ask, can a player so good simply fail to understand how important he was to the people of Cleveland, how much those teams meant to them, how much it meant to them to simply watch him fail? After December 27th, 1964, and all the hope and misery that followed it, can LeBron remain oblivious to what he means to those who rooted for him, and those who root against him? How can he sit on a podium and not see how he could have changed the lives, even for a night, of the people who woke up the next day and “had the same life they had before?” Mr. Raab is an inhabitant of a world that LeBron James may never understand, and his book makes that world a fun place to spend a couple of hours immersed in.

Wow, this got very long. I guess that’s what happens when you take a hiatus from your blog. To conclude: whether you hate LeBron, love LeBron, or only know LeBron as the guy who was on Entourage a few times, it is a worthwhile read. It is a quick read, but not a simple one; I started and finished the book in a matter of hours, but it has stayed in my head ever since, and I imagine it will for the days to come. Mr. Raab’s book is far more than a story about LeBron, or a story about sports, or even how sports impact our lives — it’s the end result of a truly talented writer pouring his heart and soul into a book about a city he loves, a man he hates, and a life that he has, after some hard years, come to accept. It was a pleasure to read, and I highly recommend it.

Here is the link to buy the book on Amazon.

Here is the link to buy the book at Barnes and Noble’s website.

On the NBA Finals

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

The NBA Finals are over. For the eighth consecutive season, the playoffs have ended without LeBron James winning a ring. For the first time, LeBron not winning a ring was a cause for celebration in Cleveland.

My feelings, as they would have been if the Heat had won a championship, are mixed.

I’m happy for Dirk Nowitzki, who has always been one of the NBA’s true class acts, is a once-in-a-generation joy to watch, and was the most disrespected superstar in the NBA because of a missed free throw in the 2006 Finals and a first-round matchup ambush in his subsequent MVP season.

I’m happy for Jason Kidd, one of the best pure points to ever play the game and someone who stayed in the league by fighting through microfracture surgery and adding a three-point shot.

I’m sad for Erik Spoelstra, a brilliant young coach who was maligned all season long, will be under scrutiny until the Heat do win a championship, and would have won a championship if his best player had shown up in the fourth quarter of Game 2 or any of Game 4.

I’m sad for Big Z, for obvious reasons.

I’m truly, truly happy for everyone in Cleveland who got a happy end to the season after some really rough playoff exits and a miserable regular season. Was I celebrating? I was not. But I’m still happy for everybody that got to. Wife/girlfriend analogies have become their own cliche post-“Decision,” but my analogy is this: when you see your friend get married, you’re not happy because he got to marry the person you wanted to marry. You’re happy because you see him happy. I’m never one to begrudge happiness, even a night of it, however people may find it. It’s very difficult to find. And a lot of people I consider friends found happiness at the Heat losing.

So how do I feel about LeBron choking away the finals? I’m having a hard time celebrating it, although I don’t begrudge those who do. I spent a lot of time on this blog and on other outlets defending LeBron as a player, and those feelings didn’t change when LeBron changed teams. I’ve never tried to defend “The Decision.” I think it was silly and egotistical. I think LeBron is kind of silly and egotistical. (Latest evidence: his post-Finals “my life is better than yours” comments.) I thought he was kind of silly and egotistical when he played for the Cavs, and made the case that I didn’t really care about it. I stand by that.

Still, for whatever reason, I never really, really got angry about “The Decision.” I don’t know exactly why I didn’t, but here are some of my theories:

1. I was at a really good place in my life when “The Decision” happened. I was 21, it was summer, and I had a great one. I spent 4th of July weekend with friends at UCSB, and I still consider that weekend to be the best weekend of my life. The night of “The Decision,” I was packing to go to Summer League in Las Vegas, where I got to meet and hang out with some awesome people, watch 4-5 basketball games a day, live in a house that ESPN paid for, and got paid to write about all of it.

2. After the Boston series, I knew LeBron was gone. He played like crap in those last two games, but the team was completely exposed and dismantled as a whole, and his supporting cast didn’t provide him with compelling reasons to stay. I understand why some people had faith that he would stay, but I knew he was gone. The week or so after those playoffs ended were rough for me. I didn’t really leave the house too much. I drank too much. I grew what my friends referred to as a “downward spiral beard.” I sort of got my depression and anger out of the way early.

By the time the actual “Decision” came around, I’d made peace with the fact LeBron was going to leave. At some point well before the thing happened, I’d made the cognitive disconnect between “the best player in the world is leaving my favorite team and I’m not going to get to cover him anymore” and “where will this bizarre, fascinating, free-agency journey end?”

3. From a really selfish point of view that I don’t expect anyone else to understand, I was happy that the decision (lowercase) was actually scheduled and set up on a specific day. As I mentioned, I was 21 and enjoying my summer, hopping from couch to couch, and my great fear was that the big news would break at 2 AM and I’d be at a party with no access to the internet. The way things were, with the news essentially breaking a day before the actual show and the show taking place at a scheduled time, I got to sit down and craft my post on the ordeal on a solid schedule, which made my life easier. Again, totally selfish reason.

So then the NBA Finals happened, and LeBron choked away the Finals. My mix of emotions comes from this thought: the Finals weren’t a referendum on the LeBron that made “The Decision” and left Cleveland in a silly and tone-deaf fashion. They were a referendum on the best player in the history of the franchise, the one who brought Cleveland so much joy for his seven years with the team.

When I’ve talked to Scott Raab or a lot of other people about LeBron, they don’t just talk about the fiasco of a television show; they talk about how LeBron did nothing as the Cavs got blown out in Game 5, and seemed content to accept their fate at the bitter end of Game 6. Those performances were used as evidence that LeBron already had one foot out the door on the Cavs, and couldn’t wait to bolt to Miami with Wade and Bosh. Well, he did the same thing in the fourth quarter of Game 2 and all of Game 4. It wasn’t a Cleveland thing, it was a “LeBron doesn’t really know what to do when the game/series isn’t going his way” thing. And the Heat simply broke at the end of Game 6 against the Mavericks the way the Cavs did against the Celtics — you could see it in their body language after one last offensive rebound for Dallas.

Also, LeBron choking away the Finals almost reinforces the fact that he made the correct basketball decision by leaving Cleveland. He lost the Finals with Wade going off at will and Bosh quietly having an excellent series — I can’t honestly imagine how he would have been able to get the Cavs to the promised land in the near future playing anything like the way he did in those Finals.

If he’d failed to mesh with Wade and Bosh and the Heat’s lack of depth had proved crippling, that would have been one thing. But he got all the support he could have possibly dreamed of, and still failed. That’s not about “The Decision.” That’s about the player. The same player whose abilities we all believed in for so long.

The same way I imagine most readers of this blog never imagined that LeBron would never leave Cleveland, I never imagined he’d choke away a golden opportunity to win a championship. Plenty of people, including myself, knew the former could and would happen. Plenty of people also knew the latter could happen, and I was not one of them. I am stunned, I am disappointed, I am confused.

The Boston massacre of 2010 was as much about the roster being built for Orlando as it was about LeBron’s poor play, although the latter was a huge factor. Game 1 of the Orlando series was the deciding game there, and that may have been LeBron’s best playoff game as a Cav, right down to the final possessions. LeBron exploded offensively in Game 7 against Boston in 2008. The Cavs had no business being in the same arena as the Spurs in 2007 or the Pistons in 2006. And on and on it goes. This time, though, LeBron has nobody to blame but himself, and I have nobody but myself to blame for trusting in his abilities and mentality.

(For those of you interested, this is the story behind my Heat Index sojourn. It was never about The Cavs, The Heat, LeBron, or anything else. It was about the writing. I was asked to join a really great team of writers and editors and provide insight, mostly because of how well I’d come to know LeBron’s game and the narratives that had grown around him in his seven years in Cleveland. It was a golden opportunity as a kid fresh out of college and paying his own bills by writing about basketball to get great exposure, make some money, and work with great people, and I took it. I have no regrets whatsoever.

Also, I was exhausted at the end of each NBC/Heat Index day, and knew Mo, Kevin, Colin, and Ryan had things running smoothly here without me, and I didn’t feel I had much Cavs-related stuff to contribute at the end of a day of obsessively watching and writing about the playoffs.

I will also add this — I’ve written just about everywhere on the internet in the last four years ((five if you count my days writing on Cavs message boards)), and I can say that the ESPN experience has, without question, been my best one. My pieces are well scheduled, placed, and edited, the communication with the editors is constant, the higher-ups show interest in my work and my well-being, I get to write alongside people I have admired for years, and I’ve made lasting friendships. After all the time I’ve spent doing this as both an amateur and a professional, I’ve come to really, really value those things in a way that’s hard for most to understand. So that’s my story. I apologize if you have a serious issue with it.)

Getting back on message — why is LeBron’s failure a cause for celebration, even though it wasn’t really a referendum on his “Decision?”

I had a hard time finding an answer to this until I started thinking about Carlos Boozer. I dislike Carlos Boozer. I think that lying to the team’s owner, fooling him into not picking up his option, and bolting for more money was, objectively, worse than LeBron going to a better team as an unrestricted free agent and announcing it with a silly television show. (LeBron’s extra crimes: being born in Cleveland and being much better at basketball than Carlos Boozer.)

I’ve always dealt with the Boozer fiasco by convincing myself that the Cavaliers were better off for it — they made desperation moves that ended up landing them Drew Gooden and Anderson Varejao after losing Boozer, which I feel was ultimately a good thing.

I feel like Boozer screwed over the Cavaliers in an inexcusable fashion, albeit one made possible by front-office incompetence. I also believe that Carlos Boozer is a vastly overrated player who doesn’t play defense, settles for too many mid-range jumpers, and doesn’t help his teams nearly as much as he’s supposed to. I’d like to think that these beliefs exist independently from each other, but they probably don’t.

When I see Carlos Boozer fail in the playoffs, I feel a sense of happiness. It’s not a happiness that comes from a quest for revenge, or a personal ill-will towards him. It’s a happiness that comes from relief. When I see Boozer fail, I feel relieved that the Cavs weren’t doomed by Boozer’s fiasco of a departure from Cleveland. I imagine the happiness at LeBron failing in the Finals comes from that same place of relief. The LeBron that showed up against Dallas would not have won the Cavs a championship — in fact, he probably would have caused them to leave the playoffs earlier after Boston or Chicago made him struggle and put the team in any sort of position where they had to fight for their lives.

That feeling may go away if the Heat pull themselves together next year and win the championship, although they’ll have a harder road back to the finals than most think, but for now, the sense of relief is there. I invite you to correct me if I’m wrong, and I imagine that Tom might in the next two installments of his post, but I believe it’s relief that Cavs fans reveled in after the NBA Finals were over.

Scott Raab on the Baron Davis trade

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

When the Baron Davis trade was first announced, I had some opinions about what the trade meant re: hypocrisy that I felt would be received as fairly extreme. This blog’s mission statement is simple: it is a blog about why the Cleveland Cavaliers win or lose basketball games, not a site devoted to praising them.

That being said, I do recognize how passionate Cleveland sports fans are, and one of my greatest joys as a writer has been experiencing the kind of passion Cleveland fans have for their team. I tend to be more analytical than emotional in my writing, and currently reside in California, but I do recognize and respect what Cleveland sports mean to residents of the city. That is why I decided to email Scott Raab shortly after I hit “publish” last night and ask him for his thoughts on the trade.

Mr. Raab has written for Esquire Magazine since 1997, is the author of “The Whore of Akron: One Man’s Search for the Soul of LeBron James,” and is both an accomplished writer and an extremely devoted fan of Cleveland sports. These are his thoughts on the trade.

(Note: the only edits made were for language reasons)

I think the essential point — really the only thing that matters long-term — is that ‘now the team has hope for the future.’

I think it’s fairly safe to say that Maurice Williams had no chance of being part of the next Cavs team to contend for an NBA title. (I also think that that’s about the kindest thing I myself can find to say about Mo, who proved beyond debate that he was not a wartime consigliere.)

I don’t think Baron Davis will be a long-term Cav, nor do I think this dooms Ramon Sessions. I concur generally with JK’s opinion of Davis, and of Sessions. I think the Cavs have high regard for Sessions, too, and a realistic notion of what Davis can and can’t, and will and won’t, do.

(Still, if the head coach nails Ramon’s ass to the bench in favor of Baron — the more I puzzle over the riddle of Byron Scott’s tenure as Cavs coach, the less I understand — then I hope Chris Grant has sense and power enough to force Scott’s hand.)

But I think it’s mistaken to focus on the Baron/Ramon issue in view of the draft pick involved. Yes, there will be few, if any, can’t-miss options, but the Cavs’ odds of hitting a home run in the draft have just doubled, and, especially in the wake of LBJ’s departure and this horror of a season, that’s ALL I truly care about: Building the next Cavs team that can compete for an NBA title depends almost entirely on drafting well.

In short, the Cavaliers traded Mo Williams for a top-ten draft pick. I’m [freaking] thrilled about that.

I’m less certain when it comes to addressing the issue of ‘rooting for laundry.’ I started working on a book about LeBron and Cleveland fanhood on Draft Day 2009, and I followed the team all of last season as a fully-credentialed media member. Though I had no clue up to the end of last season that the [person who has biblical knowledge of his mother] was outward bound, it took little time to see that the gap between James and the rest of the organization was huge, and growing month by month. I certainly was not the only one to see it; plenty of other folks, inside and outside of the team itself, knew far, far more than I did. But the dysfunction had long since become business as usual, the team was kicking ass on the court, nobody actually believed the King would leave, and no one was able or willing to cal bull[excrement] on LeBron.

What I’m saying — in additon to ‘Buy my book’:  — is that as fans, all we really can do is root for the laundry, and hope that the players wearing it do so with the kind of passion and loyalty that Cleveland fans deserve. I’m not defending Twan’s lack of effort D, and I share Krolik’s frustration with the fans, media, and coach for not calling him out on it; nor am I dumb or dishonest enough to dispute his claim that the Whore of Akron was the best player in franchise history by far.

But that’s a different discussion altogether. Comparing the impact of this deal to The Decision — whatever the emotions of the moment and however things turn out — strikes me as absurd.

Ignorance or stupidity aren’t the same as hypocrisy. Any Cavs fan who rushes out to buy a Baron Davis jersey knows nothing about basketball, or has learned nothing about the essential lunacy of fanhood — particularly Cleveland fanhood.

As for moral codes and sports, the older I get, the more I tend to embrace the philosophy of Al Davis: Just win, baby.

Cavs name David Griffin Vice President of Basketball Operations

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Via news services:

The Cleveland Cavaliers took another big step in their post-LeBron James era makeover by adding David Griffin as vice president of basketball operations.
Griffin has accepted the job, sources on Monday told ESPN The Magazine’s Ric Bucher, several weeks after turning down the Denver Nuggets’ offer to be their general manager.
A league source told Bucher at the time that Griffin declined the Nuggets’ offer in part because it was nowhere near $1 million a year, the median salary for recently hired GMs that include the Cavaliers’ Chris Grant.
Grant was hired in June after the Cavaliers didn’t bring back Danny Ferry. Byron Scott then joined the Cavaliers as head coach to replace Mike Brown, who was fired in May.
Cleveland finished the regular season 61-21 as James garnered his second consecutive NBA MVP award. But the Cavaliers were ousted in the second round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics in six games.
James signed with the Miami Heat in July, joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh while ending a years-long buildup to one of the biggest free-agent moves in NBA history.

How it all went wrong: Luke Jackson

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010


Welcome to “how it all went wrong,” a breezy romp through the ways the Cavaliers managed not to build a solid “core” around LeBron James during his time in Cleveland. This is an idea I came up with during the free agency process, but never really got around to it. Since I did, LeBron signed with Miami, who built their team this off-season in an audacious, unprecedented, and possibly pre-planned turn of events. Because of that, I realize that some people might say the Cavs’ failure to build a core around LeBron ultimately turned out to be a moot point, but I still think there’s value in taking a look how the Cavs were more or less forced to build with LeBron and duct tape during Cleveland’s competitive years.

One other thing: this is not a “this was all the front office’s fault” thing. Because LeBron made the Cavaliers so good so fast, they only had a few chances to make the move or draft pick that would have given him a true running mate or set of running mates. Due to a series of circumstances both within and beyond management’s control, the moves they made didn’t work out. Without further ado, the tale of Luke Jackson, the Cavs’ only lottery pick in the LeBron era.

The Theory:

Things were looking good for the Cavs after the 03-04 season. LeBron won rookie of the year and was well on his way to becoming a superstar, the Cavs finished the year strong after dropping Ricky Davis and Darius Miles, Carlos Boozer had shown promise as a potential running mate before his contract situation got more and more dire, and basketball was cool in Cleveland. All good things, and the Cavs had their sights set on building on the momentum they’d gained and making a playoff run.

With the #10 overall pick, Luke Jackson was the fairly obvious choice. Thanks to LeBron, high school/young player mania was in full effect, and the draft was full of risky picks: 8 of the first 20 picks were either in high school or too young to have attended a year of American college.
Furthermore, the Cavs knew who their star was, and didn’t see the need to take a risky player: they knew they were going to compete for a playoff spot next season and run the offense through James, so they wanted a player who would be able to contribute right away and would be a good fit next to LeBron. Again, Luke Jackson was the only thing approaching a “safe” pick at the #10 spot. Here were the players taken after Jackson:

#11: Andris Biedrins, a horrifyingly raw center (the Cavs still had Z) who was actually younger than any of the high schoolers in the draft

12: Robert Swift, a high school center and that year’s recipient of the Sonics’ scholarship fund for raw centers who didn’t know how to play basketball

13: Sebastian Telfair, who was considered a huge reach at 13 and most people were sure would be a bust (and who the Cavs would later GIVE AWAY. RIGHT AS THEY WERE BUILDING A RUNNING TEAM. A RUNNING TEAM FOR BASSY. I can’t talk about Bassy without ranting about my love for a short point guard who can’t shoot or finish inside. I apologize.)

14: Kris Humphries, who is Kris Humphries

15: Al Jefferson, high school big man

16: Kirk Snyder, who went to college and is now serving a three-year prison sentence. Currently working with Maurice Clarett on a book about how age limits keep players from making bad life decisions.

17. Josh Smith, high school player then considered a shooting guard, albeit one who couldn’t shoot or dribble with his right hand. Bilas predicted that he would be the bust of the draft.

18. J.R. Smith, high schooler, three-point gunner, neck-tattoo enthusiast

19. Dorell Wright, high-schooler

20. Jameer Nelson. I’m telling you, this was an ass-backwards draft. How ass-backwards?

21. Pavel Podkolzine “Pavel Podkolzine went one pick behind Jameer Nelson” ass-backwards.

Then Russian Teammates Viktor Khryapa and Sergei Monia were taken before Delonte West, Tony Allen, Kevin Martin, Sasha Vujacic, Beno Udrih, David Harrison, and Anderson Varejao were taken with consecutive selections. Making a bad pick in the 2005 draft was like making poor health choices in Mad Men times. I mean, look at the players taken before Jackson:

#1: Dwight Howard: Okay, he would’ve been nice.

#2: Emeka Okafor: I mean, kinda meh. Good player, but not a franchise savior. How much better would he have been at his contract number than Varejao at his, considering Varejao and LeBron’s chemistry?

#3: Ben Gordon: Would’ve been a nice pickup/player. No Scottie Pippen, to say the least.

#4: Shaun Livingston: (Shakes fist at absent God)

#5: Devin Harris: Would’ve been nice, but he was raw and seemed like a reach. Jury’s still out on whether he’s a star — very little talk about the power of a LeBron/Harris pair this summer.

#6: Josh Childress: Played LeBron’s position. Went to Greece.

#7: Luol Deng: Played LeBron’s position. LeBron was unexcited by the possibility of Deng being the fourth-best player on LeBron’s new team.

#8: Rafael Araujo: Probably a very nice man.

#9: Andre Iguodala: More on that later.

Furthermore, Luke Jackson really should have worked on paper. The dude averaged 21.2/7.2/4.5 in his last year at Oregon, on 48.8%/44%/86.2% shooting, had good size for his position, and wasn’t supposed to need athleticism because the Cavs had LeBron to create most of the plays anyways.

My basic “the team really screwed this pick up” rules are as follows: the correct choice has to be within five picks of the team’s actual choice, and not have been considered a huge risk or bad fit at the time — it has to be plausible that the team actually would have made the pick. No “Oh, the Grizzlies and Cavs passed on Amar’e for Drew Gooden and Dajuan Wagner.” Other than Jameer, there’s no player who wasn’t a huge unknown behind the Jackson pick, and Jameer went at 20. Here’s the scary part: if the Cavs had the #9 pick and a choice between a raw-as-hell, similar to LeBron, averaged 13 points in college Andre Iguodala, which player would have seemed like the more logical choice? That one would have looked terrible in hindsight, but even then the Jackson pick would be justifiable.

The Reality:

Unfortunately, Luke Jackson struggled with not being injured and not sucking throughout his NBA career. He played a total of 46 games for Cleveland, never averaging more than 8.9 minutes per game. After Cleveland got rid of him, he bounced from the Clippers to the Raptors to D-League and international ball. I saw him in Summer League this season, and he didn’t look like he belonged there. I don’t know if it was the injuries, but Luke Jackson never resembled an NBA role player.

The Cost:

Thanks to the Jiri Welsch debacle and the Cavs’ subsequent success, Jackson was the Cavs’ only lottery pick. No Durant/Westbrook/Harden for the Cavs, thank you. Just LeBron and Luke Jackson for Cleveland. Good hindsight is always fun, but for to fix this one you might have needed a DeLorian and a case of St. Joe’s DVDs. Sigh. Just because something was nobody’s fault doesn’t make it suck less in the end.

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