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LeBron James’ fan support has fluctuated differently among white and black fans

Jun 5, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT

NBA All-Star Game 2014 Getty Images

LeBron James is the most popular player in the NBA.

That’s what ESPN’s research says. But adoration for LeBron – the percentage of fans who consider him their favorite player – has ebbed and flowed differently by demographics.

LeBron’s popularity took a big dip among both black and white fans when he left Cleveland. But in his second year with the Heat, LeBron re-gained some popularity among black fans while continuing to lose ground among white fans.

By 2012-13, he had already surpassed his final Cleveland popularity mark among black fans. Though white fan support increased from 2011-12 to 2012-13, LeBron still lagged well behind where he left off with the Cavaliers.

Here are the percentage of fans who named LeBron their favorite player by season. Seasons are marked by the year they finished (e.g., 2010 represents the 2009-10 season).


A similar phenomenon exists between avid and casual fans.

A smaller percentage of casual fans considered LeBron their favorite player in 2012-13 than did in 2009-10, but – after taking a two-year dip among both groups – a slightly higher percentage of avid fans called LeBron their favorite in 2012-13 than did in 2009-10.


The racial and NBA-interest splits might not be completely independent. It’s possible blacks are disproportionately represented among avid fans and/or vice versa, just as it’s possible whites are disproportionately represented among casual fans and/or vice versa.

But whatever is driving the swings in support for LeBron is real. These are pronounced differences in his popularity by demographic.

In 2010, LeBron said he believed race was a factor in backlash to The Decision. The evidence indicates he was right.

LeBron: ‘My legacy will speak for itself’

  1. ringjames - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    So basically Heat fans are the avid fans? And LeBron haters are just casual fans? It all makes sense now lol

  2. azarkhan - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:47 AM

    Who cares?

    • buffalowned - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:59 AM

      Obviously you do if you took the time to read and post on this article

      • rudwo - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:44 AM

        I see this response all the time.

        Sometimes people don’t care, they are just bored…

        Although, I wasn’t bored. I just wanted to read the article.

  3. buffalowned - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:51 AM

    I would highly recommend for everyone that thinks the NBA is rigged in favor of the Heat to read that article…especially the part about the ratings after Heat wins or losses in the playoffs and the ratings in general this season. Pretty much kills your conspiracy theories.

    • bigbenh8tr - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:50 AM

      Read this article or the link to the ESPN article? This article is about someone’s favorite player and says ZERO about ratings. I think you must have been reading something different

      • buffalowned - Jun 5, 2014 at 1:16 PM

        The ESPN article that is included in this article…If you haven’t read that yet i’ll let you figure it out on your own

    • Mr. Wright 212 - Jun 5, 2014 at 3:55 PM

      It ain’t a conspiracy theory when it’s true. And worse yet, this article does nothing to debunk that fact, imbecile.

      • buffalowned - Jun 5, 2014 at 4:13 PM

        You’re an idiot. The article clearly says that ratings are down this year. The conspiracy theorists main argument is that the league wants the Heat to win for ratings and story lines. The article also says that ratings tended to increase after Heat losses, and decrease after Heat wins. Reading comprehension…some people have it some people don’t….kinda like logic.

      • buffalowned - Jun 5, 2014 at 4:17 PM

        The ESPN article that is…maybe you didn’t see my previous comment. I bet the NBA was the one that had Manu and Kawhi miss those free throws right? And told Tim Ducan not to rebound that ball? And gave Ray Allen some magical potion to hit probably the most clutch shot of all time? You’re a clown.

  4. timb12 - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    Donald Sterling approves this post.

  5. void96eater - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:00 AM

    Another slow day for PBT.

  6. thetxhammer - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:13 AM

    Morgan Freeman said it best last night on CNN, “(race issue) will never go away if we don’t stop talking about it.”

    • Mr. Wright 212 - Jun 5, 2014 at 3:56 PM

      Except it ain’t true.

      It will never go away until we deal with what’s been swept under the rug and CALLED “dealt with.”

      • buffalowned - Jun 5, 2014 at 4:19 PM

        People like you are the problem.

  7. duhwighthoward - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    I just read the ESPN article. Nowhere in it do they mention the sample size, the questions asked or the answer choices. In other words, the study and its results are meaningless, useless and reflective of poor journalism.

  8. pbtunpaidwriter - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    No rule against graphing useless things.

  9. hwatt - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:55 AM

    those charts don’t seem statistically significant. The curves of both lines are basically the same. It would be more significant if the one of the races flatlined or kept going lower in relation to the other. but as it stands, seems like some high school interns playing with plugins.

  10. tomtravis76 - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    If you’re a basketball fan, you don’t have to like LeBron/heat nor the spurs, but just appreciate it is some excellent ball being played on the court by some guys who will go down as some of the best in their era. This potentially could be a memorable one.

  11. reesesteel23 - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:07 AM

    Leaving Cleveland and everyone making him look like a villain only strengthened the original unprovoked dislike that a lot of people had. People don’t form their own opinions anymore. They read articles or watch TV and regurgitate what they have already read or seen.

    Its just like females…whatever they hear a boyfriend or just a friend say, they feel the same way…..I hear females all the time say they don’t like Lebron or Kobe. I ask what other players do you know? Answer: Kobe Bryant or Lebron depending on which 1 they say they hate.

    Just like people here. The fun thing to do is act like Heat fans don’t really exist and never did. The fun thing to do is call every heat fan an idiot or bandwagon because of their opinion. Honestly, its lame. The black and white thing. Ill just stay away from that.

    • reesesteel23 - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:24 AM

      PS I didn’t mean all females. Just the ones, after a 30 second conversation, you can tell they don’t really watch basketball.

      • davidly - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:57 AM

        I dunno which is worse: the dubiously indistinct “research” of ESPN, or someone who alludes to pitfalls of media dependent thought who forms opinions about “females” after thirty seconds.

      • dexterismyhero - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:00 PM

        So your girlfriend read your post and smacked you upside your head right?

  12. reesesteel23 - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:09 PM


    You can’t tell when someone is blowing smoke? That’s all im saying…


    Lol naw just didn’t want to offend female posters is all. I know there are a few

    • davidly - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:31 PM

      I’m just yankin’ yer chain.

  13. norcalkingsfan - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    Race is a social construct. Articles like this, and words like “black” and “white” perpetuate its existence.

    Race doesn’t exist people. To differentiate by physical characteristics, i.e. skin pigment, only teaches people to do so.

    One species. No race.

  14. blueintown - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:58 PM


  15. imakcds - Jun 5, 2014 at 1:16 PM

    I am neither white, nor black, but I love the game.
    despite establishing himself as one of the best of all time, I have NEVER liked LeBron. He is only concerned with HIMSELF, and sure likes to talk himself up.
    LeBron is his Own Biggest Fan, and doesn’t care about anyone else.

    • bbbmf - Jun 5, 2014 at 2:50 PM

      You claim to ‘love the game’ but your comment indicates you don’t KNOW the game. From the first time we saw LeBron play in high school he has always been more concerned with his teammates and the outcome.

      • imakcds - Jun 5, 2014 at 6:58 PM

        bbbmf: forgot protection? Do you ever listen to what LeBron says? First, 2nd, and last thing he ever says is either I or Me.

    • genericusername93 - Jun 5, 2014 at 3:11 PM

      Yes please offer some sort of support, anecdotal even, for the statement that Lebron doesn’t care about his teammates.

  16. patfic5 - Jun 5, 2014 at 1:54 PM

    What an insulting article. Keep us divided, right?

  17. thraiderskin - Jun 5, 2014 at 3:02 PM

    I’d be interested in what the most common reasons for the dislike. I held the decision against lebron for about a year, but that had nothing to do with race and every thing to do with pity for Cleveland… but who knows, maybe I’m just a racist.

  18. jadaruler - Jun 5, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    Never dipped. The way Lebron left can be questioned, but it still baffles me the hate he received from making a wise decision.

    The reaction to the “Not 1…” speech was/is ridiculous.

  19. antistratfordian - Jun 5, 2014 at 4:39 PM

    Is there any surprise about the support between the races? This isn’t new. White people prefer black players to be seen and not heard. It’s why they supported Joe Frazier over Muhammad Ali. It’s also why MJ was afraid to speak up on any sort of racial or political issue. It’s also why they touch themselves over Kawhi Leonard.

    But if the black athlete is compelled to open their mouth, then they mustn’t be intimidatory or controversial, but smiling and jovial. O, how the alabaster enthusiast covets the bronze competitor that comports himself in the manner of the preeminent credit to his race – The Right Honorable David “Sinbad” Adkins!

    This is part of what gets lost in translation with LeBron. The races interpret him differently.

  20. campcouch - Jun 5, 2014 at 8:44 PM

    Who polls races on the popularity of athletes? That’s nonsense. Why does it matter. I’m a Cavaliers fan,been so since World B. Free, I was disappointed that James left and raged at the whole Decision fiasco. Just saying I’m out would’ve sufficed. Anyways I didn’t burn his jersey or hate the guy because he was still a local boy doing good. Of course my desire to watch him dropped off, but not because I thought he was a race betrayer hahahaha. It was his style of exit. Besides,at some point my LeBron James autographed Cavaliers jersey might be worth some scratch! ESPN is turning into something beyond sports news and unfortunately,they are the only broadcast game in town.

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