LeBron’s popularity at an all-time low

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They say it’s better to be feared than loved. Maybe the modern sports equivalent is “it’s more profitable to be hated than loved. ”

Because even as LeBron James’ global brand is expanding to collegiate teams who have Final Four spots penciled in (plus Miami), as his jersey is tops in the world, as his financial intake is the highest it has ever been, his popularity is the lowest it could possibly be. From CNBC’s Darren Rovell:

In a poll taken just days after the decision (7/11/10), James’ appeal dropped by more 11 percent, his endorsement appeal by two percentage percent and trust plummeted by more than three percent. DBI took eight more polls of the public and how they felt about James.

James’ appeal had climbed back up somewhat to almost 63 percent by May 24, 2011, his endorsement was holding steady and his trust was showing improvement.

But all that plummeted when the poll was taken after the Finals. James was criticized for not showing up in the fourth quarter and for looking down on people who criticized him. DBI’s poll taken on June 19, shows that LeBron’s appeal was at the lowest it has ever been (57%) and that his trust was hovering at all-time lows (48.87 percent).

It’s debatable as to whether this has hurt LeBron’s business. Nike  said last month it sold more than 500,000 pairs of his signature shoes this past year and he was, after all, the NBA’s most popular jersey.

via A Year Later, Polls Show LeBron Still Hasn’t Recovered – CNBC.

So this just confirms what was pretty apparent from fan, media, and league reaction to James this season and during the Finals: everyone hates the guy outside of South Beach. He’s arrogant. Okay, so what? So is everyone in the NBA and for sure nearly every superstar. He’s brazen. This in a league filled with Kobe’s jaw-jut, KG’s incessant screaming, Durant and Co.’s constant pom-pom parade after every made three, and Derrick Rose’s preseason MVP proclamation. He’s constant in his exposure… much like Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, or Dwyane Wade on television. He betrayed the team that drafted him… by leaving in free agency which he had every right to do. He did it in a disgusting way… again, brazen. So what is it? And why hasn’t it affected his bottom line?

The reality is that James is more famous than popular. He’s not loved. He’s not feared. He’s just observed. His attention is constant, even if it’s mostly negative. And for whatever reason, companies are still flocking to him as a symbol of what they want to represent. He’s not winning titles. He’s not the people’s champion.

But he’s getting his empire, one way or another.

Watch Jerry West’s emotional memories of trading for/his relationship with Kobe Bryant

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Jerry West has never understood why people thought he was brilliant for recognizing the talent of a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant coming out of high school. To him it was obvious.

If it had been obvious (and if that era had not frowned on the development that came with drafting high school players), Kobe wouldn’t have been a Laker, and NBA history might be very different.

For West, Kobe was not just another player, he was like a son. West talked about it on the well done TNT special commemorating Kobe Tuesday night.

What those neatly packaged TNT clip does not show is just how difficult and emotional it was for West to talk about Kobe.

West has had a life of incredible highs, but also more lows and pain than many — abused by his father and battling depression his entire life — and this is another emotional tax on the NBA legend.

Joel Embiid returns to Philadelphia rotation after nine-game absence

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When you saw the image of Joel Embiid‘s dislocated ring finger facing a direction no finger should face, you knew he was going to miss some time (even though he had it taped up and returned to that game). Embiid had surgery to repair a torn radial collateral ligament on the ring finger of his left hand. Ultimately he missed nine games while he recovered.

Tuesday night against the Warriors, Embiid will be back.

He will have a soft wrap on his left hand that has been cleared by the league.

Philadelphia went 6-3 while Embiid was out.

Ben Simmons stepped up — in his last five games (before Tuesday) he averaged 24 points a game on 70.6 percent shooting, plus 10 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game. Without Embiid in the paint or taking up touches, Simmons took over the offense and looked much more comfortable in his role.

However, the Sixers’ offensive rating in those nine Embiid-less games was 104.9, 29th in the NBA (even in the last five it was 103.2, still 29th in the league). Simmons may have been playing better but the offense was not.

When Simmons and Embiid share the court this season, their offensive rating is 106.7 — not great, but better than without Embiid playing.

Victor Oladipo returns to Pacers Wednesday, likely off bench with minutes limit

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Indiana has gone 30-17 this season and sits as the five seed in the Eastern Conference — and Wednesday they get their best player back.

Victor Oladipo — the former Most Improved Player and All-NBA team member who has been out for most of a year with a right quad tendon rupture — practiced with the Pacers on Tuesday and, as expected, will make his return to the court Wednesday night against the Bulls.

Coach Nate McMillan would not say how he planned to use Oladipo but, considering the minutes limit, off the bench seems the most likely move. McMillan said the team would revisit the minutes and role after the All-Star break.

While Milwaukee has separated itself atop the East, the next five teams — Miami, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Indiana — are all within 2.5 games of each other and could end up in any order. If Oladipo can return close to the All-NBA form he was in prior to his injury, the Pacers become a big threat to break out of that group. If nothing else, they become a much tougher out in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Wizards (shoulder)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is on track to repeat as Most Valuable Player.

So, any game he misses is notable.

Bucks:

Expect to see more Ersan Ilyasova and D.J. Wilson. With the trade deadline approaching, this could even be a showcase game for Wilson.

Milwaukee is still favored over the Wizards. The Bucks have outscored opponents by 7.8 points per possession without Antetokounmpo this season. They’re deep.

Of course, anything can happen. It’s only one game in a long NBA regular season.

Which might something to do with Antetokounmpo sitting. Even if he plays in Milwaukee’s next game, vs. the Nuggets on Friday, he’ll get six straight days off. That’s a nice break.