Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Raab, Izrael Talk LeBron at Happy Dog

Last night, The Happy Dog was the scene of a debate of sorts between Esquire writer Scott Raab, author of The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James (read an excerpt here), and writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, a supporter of LeBron's right to leave town. Plain Dealer columnist and WCPN 90.3 Sound of Ideas host Michael McIntyre moderated the event, which was dubbed The Derision but felt more like a good-natured debate between friends.

Raab started the evening by reading an excerpt from his book — a scene in which he meets Izrael at a black barber shop in Cleveland Heights, where Raab grew up, and the men discuss James' legacy in Cleveland, centering on race.

"It's late in the book," Raab said. "And it's the only time I try to face, head on, that issue."

Once Izrael took the stage, the early part of the debate was more a continuation of their conversation from that barber shop.

"A lot of people of color saw [The Decision] as a young man who had agency over his life," Izrael said. "That's something uncommon to black people."

"When I left Cleveland, I didn't inflict a severe emotional and economic wound on the town," Raab countered. "I didn't disappoint anyone."

Though Raab and Izrael disagreed, they were clearly chummy. This wasn't a knock-down fight by any means. As the night went on, those in the crowd proved to be the most outwardly passionate — be it for or against James. Raab and Izrael came off as pragmatic and reasoned by comparison.

An early questioner asked if The Decision hadn't happened, did Raab think people would still be as upset?

"The only circumstances under which LeBron would have left that I would not have been angry would have been after bringing a championship home," Raab answered.

A common theme in the crowd's questions was whether we as a culture take sports too seriously. One person made the comparison to the reaction of Penn State students to the firing of Joe Paterno.

"I know on one level it's only sports," Raab said. "People get worked up about seeing a painting or listening to music, but sports really does take on a meaning way out of proportion to its actual bearing on our lives."

Some questions were less reasoned, traveling to the outskirts of hypothetical sense: What if James had scored more points in a particular game? Is the lockout his fault? Would it have been any different if our NBA team was the Akron Cavaliers instead of the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Ultimately, McIntyre brought the discussion back around to Raab and his book.

"You said in the book that you were searching for the soul Lebron James." McIntyre said. "Did you find it?"

"No," Raab said. "I'm not calling him a soulless spawn of satan. The title and the subtitle — I wouldn't take any of this s--t too seriously."

The event benefited Ohio City Writers, a nonprofit youth creative writing center, of which Izrael is a board member.

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