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Kobe Bryant is America's most popular athlete. Didn't see that coming, did you?

Jul 21, 2010, 9:40 AM EDT

Thumbnail image for Bryant_airplane.jpgFive years ago, Kobe Bryant may have been America’s most loathed athlete. Calling his career as an endorser “washed up” would have been about the nicest way of putting things one could have.

Now, he is America’s most popular athlete.

According to a poll by Harris Interactive, Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods are tied as the most popular athletes in America. Tiger had held that spot by himself since 2006 but worked tirelessly to screw up his popularity in the past 12 months. Job well done there, sir.

Kobe was mighty unpopular himself a few years back. But he embraced the polarizing nature of his personality — love me or hate me, but you will respect my game. Marketing him became more about marketing his will and drive than his personality. And eventually that evolved because people did start to respect him then like him again. He leads the league in jersey sales, his popularity is global.

Oh, and he started winning. Wining still cures all ills in America.

By the way, Derek Jeter was third (likely just the votes of his ex-girlfriends could have gotten him here), Brett Favre was fourth, Payton Manning fifth, LeBron James sixth (the poll was taken before “the Decision”) and Michael Jordan was seventh.

  1. The Real Shuxion - Jul 21, 2010 at 10:09 AM

    When I saw the top ten I decided that liberal douchebag Bill Mahr was right and we Americans are dumb-asses.

  2. King Ding-A-Ling - Jul 21, 2010 at 10:17 AM

    There is a lesson to be learned here….
    If you are a proffessional athlete, feel free to rape whoever you want, cheat, etc…
    The general public don’t care if you’re a scumbag.

  3. Craig W. - Jul 21, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    Globally Kobe has always led the way. It’s just that we here in America, with ‘holier than thou’ nature, our volcanic changes of opinion, and following our ‘talking heads’ didn’t want to like someone who had largely ignored the press and had ‘stepped out on his wife’ – something none of the rest of us has done.

  4. Kobe's Mom - Jul 21, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    Kobe is a selfish jerk and I hate him.

  5. CF98 - Jul 21, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    No but it just shows how full of crap you mediots are you wrote him off a few years back and now look at him.
    Its what you do build them up tear them down and build them up again of course these guys give you a reason to tear them down but its how you roll.
    Kobe’s life would make a great movie someday.

  6. Anonymous - Jul 21, 2010 at 11:40 AM

    It’s nice to see what I’ve assumed for quite a while now: Kobe is not nearly as hated as certain members of the media and public would scream that he is. Kobe, with all his failings and successes, is the most popular athlete in the US – and that is something the (very vocal) haters (commenters on this blog included) can no longer deny. Also, that the haters are in a very small minority.

  7. dBall - Jul 21, 2010 at 2:04 PM

    Kobe may indeed be the most popular, but dang, the people who do hate him harbor a visciously intense hatred beyond comparison.
    As much as Kobe is a polarizing figure to most people, I’m pretty much in the middle regarding him. I’m very glad he is a Laker and that he helped bring 5 championsips to L.A., but he will never be Magic Johnson or Kareem to me. The 80s Laker teams forever have a special place in my heart.

  8. pau - Jul 21, 2010 at 2:37 PM

    LAKERS AND KOBE ARE THE NBA THATS WHY ANY GIRL WOULD DROP THERE PANTIES TO ANY ONE ON THE TEAM– then ofcourse try and extort them for cash n fame — You already knew that your just a plainold laker hater AHAHAHLMAO!!!

  9. uncle fester - Jul 21, 2010 at 4:07 PM

    Kobe is the best basketball player around right now…you can say LeBron, but until he wins something other than public scorn and ridicule, he will be the guy who ran away from being “the man” in cleveland and turned into an also ran on what will be an also ran team. Kobe brings it night after night, despite those nagging injuries. Other than his basketballs skills, why in the world would you people act like you “know” him? that is the problem in this country – our lives are so bereft of true meaning that we try to live vicariously through these “stars”. other than being able to run faster, jump higher, etc. what do you really know of any of these people? and why do we constantly hold them up as “superstars” when they are truly just gifted human beings with the same temptations, lack of self restraint, etc. that we ALL are gifted with. I am glad that he made such a great “comeback” (as if he ever left – only his “fans” did) and that he is doing so well (5 CHAMPIONSHIP RINGS)…he has worked hard and deserves it.

  10. TechDude - Jul 21, 2010 at 4:26 PM

    That ‘Payless Shoe’ wearing hotel clerk had no business in his hotel room — she should have remained at the front counter instead of trying to cash in on an athlete. He did nothing wrong.

  11. Silent Few - Jul 21, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    I am compare to respond to few of the writers before me, because of the stupidness they posted. How is the hell one will still talk about rape now a day when we should be talking about passitive things a man deserve all preses? It’s really a big joke to many good people around here. No one with good thinking give a damn about a bitch who was looking for money to support her habbits. King Ding-A-Ling, whatever your name that seem to be from outer spce may be, leave Kobe alone. He has taken a lot from you and your bone-head friends. Admit the fact that he’s the best we have around here right now weather you hitters accept it or not.

  12. Dr. Jay - Jul 21, 2010 at 6:01 PM

    Well said, Unc. Nice to see some objective reasoning in here…

  13. SJ - Jul 21, 2010 at 7:02 PM

    Just because he’s the most popular doesn’t mean he isn’t still the most hated. If you did a poll about the most hated athletes it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was at or near the top.

  14. WhoCares - Jul 21, 2010 at 9:45 PM

    you are an apologist, I’m sure you also think OJ was really innocent, and voted for obama.
    Side Note, it’s Peyton Manning, not Payton

  15. JG - Jul 22, 2010 at 1:28 AM

    Please don’t hate him, Mr. Jelous

  16. loungefly - Jul 22, 2010 at 8:29 AM

    All the great ones have a “hater” club. Kobe has brought so much happiness to my favorite team, the Lakers. The guy wins rings. The guy puts 110% on the floor for my team and that’s the bottom line. He does all he can to win rings.

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