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interview

A Conversation With Scott Raab About The Whore of Akron

Cleveland native Scott Raab is, to put it mildly, no fan of LeBron James. And for The Whore of Akron, out now, the author spent last season attending Heat games in a search, to borrow from the book's subtitle, for the soul of the man who famously took his talents to South Beach. Raab spoke with Will Leitch about Cavs fans, an upside of the lockout, and his own health.

As many people have pointed out, this book is far more about you, and your demons, than LeBron James's. This makes it a far more compelling read, but legitimate question: Do you believe LeBron James HAS demons? My fear about him — and about all athletes I invest too much of my time and soul in— is that there's just nothing there, neither good nor bad. Just an engine of consumption. Do you agree? What DID you learn about him?
After watching last season's finals, I'm not only convinced that LBJ does have demons — self-doubt, deep-seated fear, seething resentment — but also that his demons are growing more powerful each season. Pressure affects James more profoundly than any other pro athlete I've ever seen. Off the court? I plead ignorance, except for noting that last season, he chose to set aside most of his responsibilities as a partner to his long-time girlfriends and as the father of their children.

The most surprising thing I learned about him was that he'd learned NOTHING from losing in the playoffs over the years. When he began to choke, he couldn't save himself, and also couldn't stop acting like a petulant child off the court.

So much of this book seems written directly from your id, or at least your screaming core. After something as primal as this, is it difficult to go back to interviewing celebrities? Or do you even do that anymore?
Not a problem. I do a monthly Esquire Q&A that's mostly id, and I'll gladly haul my screaming core out to Hollywood whenever my magazine needs me to do so. Most— maybe all — of my celebrity profiles have drawn blood, often my own.

You've chronicled the process of the ground zero project and the Freedom Tower as much as any journalist. Have you been down to the memorial yet? Thoughts on where it stands?
Seven feature stories over nearly seven years and counting. Visiting ground zero, getting to know some of the people involved, following the rebuilding in its various phases — this has been the greatest privilege of my so-called career. I walked the Memorial Plaza with Michael Arad, the architect who designed it, not long before the tenth anniversary. I haven't visited since. I will.

Things down there aren't moving quite as fast now that Andrew Cuomo has replaced Chris Ward as the Port Authority's Executive Director. It was a foolish move, period. Turning it back into a patronage position guarantees that completing the site will take longer and cost more. And the train station — the Calatrava — remains a boondoggle of epic proportions.

You've said on your blog that you are perfectly happy for the NBA season to be canceled because it'll be another year off the clock that LeBron doesn't get a title. Is that true? Do you miss basketball? Are you still passionate about the Cavs? Are they gonna be all right?
I'm hopeful. Maybe Kyrie and Tristan will emerge as the greatest rookie duo in NBA history. Maybe GM Chris Grant will make another trade like Mo Williams for Baron Davis and the Clips' first-rounder. Maybe this and maybe that, but even if all goes well — fat chance in Cleveland — it will be many years, if ever, before Cavs fans can go into every season feeling like their team has a shot at winning it all.

I can't honestly say that I miss basketball. I'm perhaps the least passionate basketball fan in the world at this point. And yes, it's true: Like Dan Gilbert, I'm perfectly content with no basketball if it means LeBron loses a season of his career that no amount of money can buy back.

I expected more coverage in the Cleveland newspapers. Are they on your side? How have they handled the book? How has the city?
Both the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Akron Beacon Journal refused free excerpts from the book. The ABJ did so after working for a week with HarperCollins to shape five days of excerpts. Neither paper has any local competition, of course, and neither was willing to risk offending King James or their readers. That's par for the course for the PD, which risks nothing, ever, for the city it's supposed to serve. They exist to turn a profit and to comfort the comfortable. I'm less familiar with the Akron paper, and I was disappointed by their cowardice. Not shocked, mind you— King James still comes by to hand out tax-deductible bikes to the children once a year — but disappointed.

The city itself, including the sports radio and TV folks, have been great. And my fellow Cleveland fans have brought me to tears on more than one occasion by thanking me for standing up for them. After decades of being portrayed as losers from Loserville, they're simply grateful that someone has a good word to say about them and their home town.

Last question: How is your health? Your book had me worried. You're gonna take some time off after this tour, right?
I'm fine, thanks. Down about 70 pounds from my peak, and doing it the right way. Time off? I've got the best job in print journalism at the best magazine in America, and a book I'm proud of. I'll sleep when I'm dead.

Related: Book Review: The Spleen of Cleveland

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Photo: HarperCollins