LeBron James voted NBA's most popularJuly 27, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Two world championships seem to have healed some wounds for fans of LeBron James.
For the first time in four years, the Miami Heat forward is the most popular player in the NBA, according to the latest ESPN Sports Poll.
Nearly 13% (12.9) of NBA fans said James was their favourite player this season, allowing him to best Kobe Bryant (12.5%) for the first time since the 2008-09 season. That was the only other season when James passed the Los Angeles Lakers star, the top pick by fans for five of six years from 2006-07 to 2011-12.
After "The Decision," James' approval rating slipped drastically. For his final season in Cleveland, 15.6% of fans called him their favorite, according to the ESPN Sports Poll taken after the 2009-10 season. But for his first two years with the Heat, James was called fans' favorite player by 10.2% and 9.4%, respectively.
But James became easier to love, thanks in part to his play on the court, which led to two titles and two Finals MVP awards. While casual fans of the league still didn't like him as much as they did at the height of his Cleveland days, the most recent ESPN Sports Poll shows that more avid NBA fans (18.9%) call James their favorite today than at any other point in his career.
The numbers show that James separated himself from Bryant thanks to greater support of the African-American population. Twenty-four percent of African-Americans said James was their favorite player this season compared to only 16% mentioning Bryant. James also skewed younger, as 18% of kids 12-17 said they preferred him while only 15 percent preferred Bryant.
Rounding out the top five are Kevin Durant (3.6%), Derrick Rose (2.8%) and Dwyane Wade (2.6%).
ESPN Sports Poll is a poll conducted by telephone 350 days a year that involves a random sample of the US population ages 12 and older.