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

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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.