If you ever watch old tapes of David Letterman, I strongly commend to you the shows from 1993, when Letterman was in the process of being rejected for the Tonight Show at NBC, but hadn’t yet signed his big deal at CBS. Inside, he was miserable.
On camera, he was never funnier.
So it is with Scott Raab’s new book “The Whore of Akron.”
Raab gives full throat to the sorrow of Cleveland sports fans and their endless drought. No baseball championships since 1948. No football championships since 1964. Scott Raab knows. He was there. Now he brandishes his ticket stub like his personal splinter from the True Cross. No basketball championships since ever.
LeBron James was going to change that with the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA. More to the point, as a local, he was supposed to understand it was his responsibility to change that. And when he didn’t, not only spurning Cleveland for Miami, but doing it in a particularly douchey way, with the hour on ESPN and all, he ignited the righteous fire of Scott Raab on behalf of all Cleveland sports fans.
And Raab is not a forgiving guy. Among those he cannot pardon are former Cavs’ general manager Danny Ferry; Art Modell, who pried the Browns loose from Cleveland and took them to Baltimore; Jose Mesa, who blew the save that would have won the World Series for the Indians and ended the drought in 1997; the Miami Heat press rep who won’t credential Raab, an Esquire Magazine veteran, for the games. Or Scott’s mother, guilty of indifferent parenting.
The Whore of Akron is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant rant about the meaning of home and loyalty.
Along the way, Raab leaves us to discover the irony that his passion for Cleveland is practiced at a distance – that he himself left decades ago and today walks among us in Glen Ridge. And he generously gives the book’s central revelation to the comedian Chris Rock: what young man wouldn’t leave Cleveland for Miami if he could?
I am told that before the Great Betrayal, Raab’s original commission was to write about LeBron leading Cleveland sports fans out of the darkness. That would have been a very different book, one that might find that even if Cleveland has progressed beyond its “Crooked River Burning” days, the pride of championships doesn’t quite compensate for the long twilight of declining industry and falling population.
As it is, we follow him to the NBA finals, where (spoiler alert!), to Raab’s delight, Miami falls to Dallas and James is particularly awful at the end.
It’s cold comfort, rooting against someone.
But it’s better than no comfort al all.