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

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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.