UpdatedÂ Jun 12, 2012 10:07 AM ET
FINALS: THUNDER VS. HEAT
If the narrative for this series has yet to be written, the identity of its central protagonist has been certain for quite some time. Thatâd be the aforementioned whore of the title, otherwise known as LeBron James.
There is, of course, a plague of suddenly reconstructed thinking on the subject of James. A zeppelin could fly from the hot air generated analyzing his expression in Game 6 against the Celtics. By any standard, James was brilliant that night, what with 45 points and 15 rebounds in an elimination game on the road. But the expectation of multiple championships â" his, mind you, not yours or mine â" is merely commensurate with his ability. Until further notice, then, LeBron James will remain the greatest and most unfulfilled talent of his generation.
The hype you now hear is endemic to sports, the inevitable confusion between victory and virtue, redemption and ruin. Raabâs book, crazy as it is, is a cure for this kind of thinking, or, as the case may be, non-thinking. Actually, certain women aside, I donât recall loving anything quite so crazy. And when the series is over, and the Thunder have won in seven games, Iâll put the Whore on a shelf that includes Billy Bathgate, James Saltersâ A Sport and a Pastime and Henry IV, Part One, works with no connection but obvious greatness and my own deepest affections.
A confession: I did not read Raabâs book upon publication last November for fear that it would arouse feelings of great envy. Turns out I was right. But the degree of my right-ness (surprising even to me) is reason enough to heed my prediction.
The Thunder will win because their (a pronoun I use advisedly) Big Three is bigger than the Heatâs. OKC has better supporting players, too.
More than that, politics and perception run against Miami. You know all about The Decision and the debacle that followed. The Heat will be seen, with ample justification, as a team of established superstars who came together to win championships by pooling their risk. Self-aggrandizement is fine, but it shouldnât be a collective endeavor. If James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh took less than max money, it was only to stack the deck.
On the other hand, and also with ample justification, the Thunder will be seen as preternaturally unselfish. James Harden is 22, a shooting guard who doesnât need to shoot, much less start. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are 23. Still, they recognized an authentic championship opportunity, and re-upped with the leagueâs smallest-market team without inflicting themselves on the public. Not even a world tour. The comparison doesnât flatter the Heat.
But back to whatâs important: the book and my amply-justified envy. Whore is really about sportswriting, something else Iâve failed to write well about (I remember each attempt, though: a stillborn novel and a spiked magazine piece). By sportswriting, I mean the battered fan in each of us who types hurriedly in press rooms, and the distance between us and them, the sportswriter and the superstar.
I wouldnât disparage Raabâs occupation (heâs not really a sportswriter) any more than his ethnicity (as it happens, we both belong to the diminished ranks of Angry Jews). But never has the chasm between Us and Them been so clearly defined. On one side is LeBron James â" aka King James and The Chosen One â" whoâs built like a Michelangelo and, based on all empirical evidence, the greatest athlete in team sports.
On the other is Scott Raab. Sportswriters are dismissed as haters, sure, but rarely has such hating been so righteous or unsparing. Raab is more merciful to James than himself, and his struggles with age, weight, sobriety and sanity. Heâs my hero.
Whore is an unlikely book for a happy ending. But its author seems ennobled by the love of his wife and son, and some spectacular sentences. He writes of James as âno more than the ill-schooled doofus who saw Gladiator and thought it was the greatest movie ever made.â He notes the tats adorning each of Jamesâ biceps: WHAT WE DO IN LIFE and ECHOES IN ETERNITY.
There it is, the real price of sportswriting, the true horror of bearing witness, the dirtiest secret in the business, the banality of superstardom.
With my heart and my head: Thunder in seven.