LeBron James, the Whore of Akron: Witnessing a Delicious Defeat in Cleveland

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LeBron James, the Whore of Akron: Witnessing a Delicious Defeat in Cleveland
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

CLEVELAND—Got my hair cut yesterday. I'm here in my old hometown, and I needed a special cut, something to deliver a message to LeBron James, my nemesis.

I'm writing a book about James—the Whore of Akron—and the Cavaliers and the Heat played on Tuesday night, their final meeting of the year. Thanks to serendipity, I had a seat three rows behind the Heat bench, so I wanted my head to represent my feelings. Literally.

There's a problem when you're an old white man looking for that kind of haircut—several problems, actually. The historical role of the barber shop in an African-American neighborhood is singular, complex in ways I'm too ignorant to parse; I do know enough to say that a strange white man strolling into a black barber shop is a strange white man.

So Jimi Izrael, a writer and also an adjunct professor at Case Western Reserve University, took me to his shop and introduced me to his barber, Dmitri Sumbry.

Dmitri's a great barber and a passionate Cleveland sports fan. He shares my disdain for LeBron, and he worked hard, for nearly three hours, to razor QUITNESS onto my pale noggin. But my hair is white, and it was hard to read. Jimi had to run over to a beauty-supply shop and bring back some make-up pencils. Artist that he is, Dmitri went with the blood red.

It was a great game, the sort of catharsis unique to sports and other fine arts. The Cavs rose up to smite the Heat, Cleveland fans enjoyed a rare and precious swig of vengeance and joy, and eventually—soon, I hope—the red will wash out of what hair I have left. All in all, a wonderful night.

But something Jimi Izrael said stuck in my brain, and echoes still: "Don't make me your Negro tour guide."

I've spent weeks asking African-American pundits to talk with me on the record about race for my book—men of national stature—not because I think race is necessarily crucial to understanding LeBron and "The Decision" and the reaction to it, but because it would be dumb and dishonest to deny race is some part of it, and a part of how NBA fans, black and white, view the game.

So far, I've asked six men to speak with me for the book. All six have declined. I think there are various and valid reasons for that—my public vitriol toward James, my book's title (The Whore of Akron), a reluctance to cede editorial control—but I think Jimi nailed it: I'm asking folks I don't know, folks who don't know me, to serve as my Negro tour guide.

Twenty-plus years of working with some of America's best editors and writers, yet I still don't need two hands to count my African-American friends in the business. It takes no hands to count to zero.

Whatever this says about American culture or the nature of journalism, it's a personal indictment first of all, a measure of how walled off—and how comfy with being walled off—I truly am. I don't think about that, and because I don't, I'm certainly not about to even try to do much about it. After all, without Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Louis Armstrong and Kanye, I wouldn't be the writer I am. So it's all good. I'm cool.  

But I'm not, and it's not. I'm thrilled the Cavs won. I'm grateful to Jimi and Dmitri. But I'm feeling pretty low, too, wondering what any of us can do to break down these walls. All I know how to do is write.

 

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