The Daily Gamecock

Book Review: 'You're Welcome, Cleveland' by Scott Raab

Author: Scott Raab

Publisher: HarperCollins 

Released: Feb. 28, 2017

Rating: A -

I rooted for the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers for the same reason I spat at a W flag hanging from a South Quad window after the Cubs won the World Series last fall: It was Cleveland’s time to win.

I can’t even count myself as a C-town aficionado — Let’s Go Pens, Hail Pitt, We Are Family — but having come up in an equally-depressed domicile just 100 miles to the northeast, I live for an underdog. Fifty-two years without a pro sports title, a thousand and one Browns head coaches and God alone knows how many vacant temples of hard industry later, it was time for Cleveland to win. Something. Anything.

No one expressed that fact with as much gusto as Scott Raab in 2011’s “The Whore of Akron,” a 300-page diatribe of near-biblical proportion locked on to LeBron James’ departing head. And, inevitably, when Cleveland’s favorite son returned from his four-year residency in South Beach, no one celebrated the Cavs’ first title more appropriately than Scott Raab in his recent sequel, “You’re Welcome, Cleveland: How I Helped LeBron James Win a Championship and Save a City.”

The shock value I found in the first book has worn off, but then it doesn’t need to stick around long. Raab spent just the right amount of “The Whore of Akron” reflecting on stints dealing drugs in Austin and toiling for a Philadelphia weekly; in “You’re Welcome, Cleveland” we join him for the most part in a New Jersey suburb amid his final years at Esquire magazine. The anger that made the debut so irresistible has been replaced by the mood of impending redemption that made me enjoy the sequel as much as I did. Raab settles in to write the book he sought to deliver in 2010, back before “The Decision” tossed another dagger into Cleveland’s heart and “The Whore of Akron” into the laps of fans everywhere jaded by zoom shots of Belichickian scowls and SportsCenter’s 25/7 cycle.

Unexpectedly, most of the book is dedicated to the Cavs’ 2014-15 campaign, which ended with a Finals loss to Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors. Tightly woven into the last 60 pages, Raab’s account of the wine and gold’s victorious march in 2015-16 felt not rushed but a bit neglected, until I re-read it and found why it made sense. The at-times sputtering chemistry of Cleveland’s offensive juggernaut of James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the frustrating moves of head coach David Blatt and the fact that this is, in fact, Cleveland, each carried over into 2015-16 from the previous season. Instead of rewriting the first 160 pages as could have been inevitable for a lesser sportswriter, Raab mostly skips ahead to where it counts: Blatt’s dismissal and the 2016 NBA Finals, where the book comes in.

Of course, there is the pesky little fact of the first book’s title, and the massive heaps of vitriol Raab tossed at its namesake. Addressing the elephant in the binding, Raab states early in “You’re Welcome, Cleveland” that he wouldn’t take back the first book, but admits sorrow and proves it in the best way: Not once does he seem as though he is smooching King James’ gilded Nikes, as plenty of Cavs laundry-wearers — not fans — expected and perhaps hoped. Instead he apologizes and moves on to better things, such as thanking James for coming back at all and reminding the world that the NBA’s greatest player calls Cleveland, of all things, home.

Cleveland Fans — capital F, those who suffered through the 52-year trophy drought and know what it meant beyond a dearth of parades and banners — don’t need to read this book. They saw the second coming of LeBron’s Cavs play out live and alone understood where the civic forgiveness of #23 came from and why. Many could have stories of grit and guts akin to Raab’s, thus having lived this book in real time. Of course, this means that those Clevelanders who pick it up anyway might enjoy it even more than I did. But even for readers beyond the grasp of northeast Ohio and its athletic fatalism, especially fans of Raab’s debut treatise, “You’re Welcome, Cleveland” is a must-have.