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LeBron James tops poll as most popular male athlete in America for first time

Jul 18, 2014, 12:04 AM EDT

LeBron James LeBron James

LeBron James was once among the most despised athletes in the nation, thanks to the way he cold-heartedly left his home town Cavaliers by using a nationally televised spectacle to announce his infamous decision.

Just four short years later, however, things couldn’t have changed more dramatically.

After winning two championships and getting to the Finals in four straight seasons as a member of the Miami Heat, James announced his return to Cleveland in free agency with a heart-felt essay explaining in detail the reasons for going home. The winning resumé, along with his honest explanation, have endeared him to fans now, as evidenced by the result of a recent Harris Poll.

From Marissa Payne of the Washington Post:

A Cleveland Cavalier for the second time, LeBron James is officially America’s favorite male athlete for the first time, according to a new Harris Poll. Prior to this latest poll, which surveyed a representative sampling of 2,241 adults online in June, before James signed again with Cleveland, the basketball star never surpassed the No. 2 spot. In 2011, the first Harris Poll for favorite athlete conducted after James moved to Miami, he dropped out of the top 10 entirely.

Truly, James has made, pardon the pun, a rebound. But not everyone ranks James as their favorite. Women polled prefer Michael Jordan, who picked up the No. 2 overall spot, as did Generation X (ages 37-48). Seniors (ages 68 and over), meanwhile, put New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter on the top of their list.

There’s probably a science to these things, but it seems somewhat inexact. Nevertheless, James has clearly turned the corner where fans are concerned — at least until a couple of seasons pass without him winning a title, or in the unlikely event he chooses to leave Cleveland once again in the not-too-distant future.

  1. casualcommenter - Jul 18, 2014 at 12:09 AM

    Most interesting to me is how Kobe Bryant apparently moved up 2 spots after signing a controversial (to some) contract extension and only playing 6 games last season.

    He went from 7th most popular male athlete to 5th, tied with Peyton Manning.

    • fanofthegame79 - Jul 18, 2014 at 12:54 AM

      It’s almost the retirement effect: he hasn’t been around, so people think fondly of him. That, and he’s been more public lately, and he’s been good at it (twitter, late night talk shows).

      • casualcommenter - Jul 18, 2014 at 3:34 AM

        Fair points. Not a Kobe fan per se, but I follow him on Twitter, and he’s an interesting follow.

        Also, goes to show the general public doesn’t care nearly as much about specific contract figures and their salary cap implications as hardcore NBA fans who comment here (including myself).

  2. Great Caesar's Ghost - Jul 18, 2014 at 12:09 AM

    Makes sense since he signed with Cleveland. People understand. It will be harder for the less-desirable NBA markets like LA, Miami, and Houston to catch up to the Clevelands, Milwaukees, Chicagos, and New Yorks where players want to play.

    • apkyletexas - Jul 18, 2014 at 12:20 AM

      After spending all day today trying to get rid of Wiggins to form a new super team with Love and the former Miami bench, LeBron should be headed back down the popularity list by this time tomorrow. Guess I was wrong about him – he’s still having panic attacks about “not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7….”. Too bad. Nice talent, but just like Kobe he’ll never reach MJ’s 6 rings, and just like Kobe he’ll end his career miserably, failing to ever take the time to really enjoy the pleasure and beauty of the game.

      • fanofthegame79 - Jul 18, 2014 at 12:58 AM

        Nah, I think you’re wrong. He went home and if he wins, he wins. If not, it’s still a good story. The possibility of Kevin Love joining LeBron on the Cavs has been a story for a few weeks now, and where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

        If he finally recruits good players to Cleveland (i.e. Love), and they do win a title, LeBron’s popularity will explode exponentially.

      • antistratfordian - Jul 18, 2014 at 1:36 AM

        Nah, you know he said in his letter, “My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question.”

        So nothing has changed. But he didn’t know whether Love was going to be coming over or not before he committed to the Cavs, so he’s ready to run with the young guns if that’s how it pans out.

  3. antistratfordian - Jul 18, 2014 at 12:34 AM

    What a year for the King, didn’t even have to win a ring and he still reigns supreme. Yo, drop a beat, dun, lemme spit a verse real quick like…

    Any Spurs on that list? lol.

    • savvybynature - Jul 18, 2014 at 2:11 AM

      I’m sure if you asked them, no one on the Spurs would trade being a champion for being popular among the youth.
      The players on the Spurs grew up and moved on from high school, unlike some people.

      • antistratfordian - Jul 18, 2014 at 3:00 AM

        Well they have no choice in the matter. Some get to be a champion and be popular.

    • cantonbound13 - Jul 18, 2014 at 2:51 AM

      The Spurs are too busy winning Championships to worry about a stupid list.

      • antistratfordian - Jul 18, 2014 at 3:08 AM

        1 championship. Miami is the only team in the last 4 years that has won championship(s).

      • cantonbound13 - Jul 18, 2014 at 4:10 AM

        1 Championship? At last count Duncan was up to 5! LeBron’s not catching him. Instead he can strive to make stupid lists.

      • antistratfordian - Jul 18, 2014 at 4:34 AM

        Yes, in the last 4, 5, 6 years they have 1 championship. They’ve actually lost in the first round more times than they’ve won in the Finals over that period. So the Spurs of recent vintage have been more busy not winning championships.

      • cantonbound13 - Jul 18, 2014 at 8:16 PM

        2 of those championships came against LeFraud. Should have been 3 if Kawahi Leonard makes a free throw & a lucky Ray Allen 3 pointer.

      • antistratfordian - Jul 18, 2014 at 9:53 PM

        That is the greatest achievement of Pop and Duncan’s career… beating LeGOAT twice in the Finals. When it’s all said and done that’s going to look like a miracle.

      • cantonbound13 - Jul 19, 2014 at 6:01 AM

        Wow, I can’t believe how obsessed you are with the A-Rod of the NBA. You probably never saw MJ play.

      • c2poke88 - Jul 18, 2014 at 9:29 AM


        The Spurs were busy winning ONE championship in the last 7 years. Lebron has TWO championships in the last 7 years. Trips to the Finals the last years? Lebron 4, Spurs 2. So, you were saying?

      • cantonbound13 - Jul 18, 2014 at 8:18 PM

        I’m saying they have 5 in the last 15 years. 2 (should be 3) against LeBron. You were saying?

      • loungefly74 - Jul 18, 2014 at 10:14 AM

        don’t cha love how they start in 2010 about title talk? how convenient. the Heat have 3 titles…and the Spurs have 5. comapring a player’s success to a franchise is just stupid.

      • savvybynature - Jul 18, 2014 at 12:31 PM

        Yeah the Spurs only have won 1 championship in the last 7 years, and Lebron has 2!! So Lebron is better than everyone on the Spurs!!!
        Of course, if we go back just one more year, the Spurs also have two titles, and both of them were won over Lebron’s teams. The first in a sweep, the second in a five game demolition with an average margin of victory of nearly 20 points.
        Head-to-head: Duncan 2, Lebron 1. Overall: Duncan 5, Lebron 2.
        Lebron lovers are a funny bunch of sycophants. They twist things in such an obvious pro-Lebron way, it’s like they don’t realize that everyone sees exactly what they are doing.

    • loungefly74 - Jul 18, 2014 at 9:50 AM

      do they have kings in your country where you are originally from? is that why you like James?

      • antistratfordian - Jul 18, 2014 at 2:25 PM

        Don’t ever talk that way to me! “Pig–disgusting–vulgar–greasy!”–them kind of words have been on your tongue and your sister’s too much around here! What do you two think you are? A pair of queens? Remember what Huey Long said–“Every Man is a King!” And I am the king around here, so don’t forget it!

      • loungefly74 - Jul 18, 2014 at 2:44 PM

        HAHAHA! alright, alright, buddy. just playing around. dont get your panties in a bunch. i just throw my hands up when i see…well, you in this case, waving the Heat banner because of lebron being there for the past few years…to now, really feeling no sting of him going to Cleveland, like Heat fans are…eh…we just have different philosophies…they dont translate well with eachothers….

    • loungefly74 - Jul 18, 2014 at 9:52 AM

      talking smack on a team? anti, you know your comment means zilch since you have no team.

  4. 00maltliquor - Jul 18, 2014 at 1:31 AM

    I still don’t understand why the “Decision” was viewed as bad. I dug it.

    • ranfan12 - Jul 18, 2014 at 1:44 AM

      probably because of the time. i can’t say because i didn’t see it, but people were saying it was an hour or something. i hoped they were exaggerating lol

      • 00maltliquor - Jul 18, 2014 at 1:57 AM

        You heard correct. It was one glorious hour lol! I only caught the last 20-30 minutes though. I was rushing home from work to see it. I thought it was pretty cool. I liked all the money he raised for the kids. Trick love da kids!

      • antistratfordian - Jul 18, 2014 at 3:17 AM

        “i can’t say because i didn’t see it”

        You expect anybody to believe that? lol.

      • ranfan12 - Jul 18, 2014 at 8:40 AM

        it’s not hard to be oblivious to the offseason matters imo. the first clip of it i’d seen was in journey to the ring video after he won his first championship, followed by people crying and burning jerseys LOL

      • antistratfordian - Jul 18, 2014 at 2:13 PM

        well I guess that’s true. just odd that a basketball fan wouldn’t have seen it. but i suppose it can happen.

    • ProBasketballPundit - Jul 18, 2014 at 2:15 AM

      The Decision is cringe inducing. The questions are so awful and the responses are as good as you could expect with the awful lead-in… it took waaaaaay to long to get anywhere because they basically stretched 4 minutes worth of content into an hour long show. I love LeBron and supported his move to Miami but The Decision & The Afterparty or parade or whatever it’s called… both were just unbearable for a LeBron supporter. I’m so glad he handled this summer’s decision the way he did.

      • antistratfordian - Jul 18, 2014 at 3:26 AM

        Here’s the thing though… in hindsight the show was boring and too long, etc… but at the time, even though it was running way too long and we were all grumbling about that, we were still sitting there on the edge of our seat just waiting for them to get to the point. So, in that sense, even though it grew to be annoying, it was still gripping enough to keep us tuned in.

        I didn’t have an issue with the Miami celebration. And Cleveland also celebrated – they were running through the streets, honking their horns and cheering. They both did that for a justifiable reason.

    • loungefly74 - Jul 18, 2014 at 9:55 AM

      media loved it…but putting yourself on stage like that makes you a big target. of course, what made it all “bad” was leaving Cleveland high n dry.

  5. seasickcecil - Jul 18, 2014 at 1:40 AM

    Just for the record LJ did a Beats commercial in Akron on Tuesday. You should see it soon.

  6. tribefever - Jul 18, 2014 at 1:47 AM


  7. cantonbound13 - Jul 18, 2014 at 2:52 AM

    Pat Riley is pissed

  8. snipedanglecelly13 - Jul 18, 2014 at 3:15 AM

    First time being most popular male athlete in America, 11th year as most popular male athlete on SC..

  9. titansbro - Jul 18, 2014 at 7:38 AM

    People are funny, I’m glad he went back & the letter was nice. But he’s still the same ole LeBron to me. City of Cleveland hated him & 20 mins later they’re ready to make him the mayor.

  10. mungman69 - Jul 18, 2014 at 8:09 AM

    Still a lot of LeBron haters out there. Hate blinds so many.

  11. andreboy1 - Jul 18, 2014 at 8:37 AM

    If they don’t get Love LBJ is going to turn back into Queen James until those young guys develop.

  12. profantasyplyr - Jul 18, 2014 at 9:23 AM

    all he did was take pressure of himself.

  13. coldwater32301 - Jul 18, 2014 at 10:16 AM

    The question im asking is when did they and who Voted… interesting poll all of a sudden…Indeed…

    • coldwater32301 - Jul 18, 2014 at 10:24 AM

      I also wonder where the people are coming that polled.

  14. themagicfanguy - Jul 18, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    Since when does LOSING in the Finals count for something? Lebron 2-3 in the Finals, Duncan 5-1. Duncan vs Lebron in the Finals? 2-1. You assemble the most hyped up team ever and act like its legendary when they lose as much as they win in the Finals? What a pathetic joke.

    • Kurt Helin - Jul 18, 2014 at 1:30 PM

      So is Jerry West a loser? Karl Malone? I find the “championship is all that matters mentality sad. And one people don’t actually apply to their own lives.

  15. deezesoprano - Jul 18, 2014 at 8:17 PM

    I know this is a bit off subject but i think Lebron would of made the suns a title contender if he went there…….unlimited shooters and the fast pace of play would have made them score 140 a night lol But no defense haha

  16. kavika6 - Jul 20, 2014 at 11:43 PM

    People feel sorry for the guy for getting destroyed in the Finals.

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