What a difference a few years make...not to mention a couple of NBA Championships.
Remember not long ago when LeBron James was considered "the enemy?" Well, at least in the eyes of the citizens of Cleveland and those who thought he gave the city a raw deal. I'd never seen such backlash over someone changing employers in my entire life...and I've had nearly forty jobs.
It seemed you couldn't turn to any channel at any given time without hearing someone griping about Lebron leaving Cleveland and signing with the Miami Heat. Now, according to an ESPN Sport Poll, LeBron has actually topped Kobe Bryant as the league's most popular player.
Not bad for a guy whose jersey was being burned just a couple of years ago.
According to the ESPN poll, over 12.9 percent of the fans chose LeBron as their favorite player for this season. Kobe came in second with 12.5 percent. Yeah, it's not a really big margin, but then again it is what it is, right? It means that "The King" topped "The Black Mamba" for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Rounding out the top five: Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant with 3.6 percent, Chicago's Derrick Rose with 2.8 percent and James' sidekick Dwyane Wade with 2.6 percent.
It just goes to show that fans are very forgiving when it comes to their favorite athletes and entertainers. Flashback a decade and Kobe Bryant was among the least favorites in the NBA in the wake of the sexual assault case in Eagle, Colo. Then he worked his way to the top of popularity list.
And then of course there's Tiger Woods, who became among the most disliked guy in sports just a couple of years ago after his infidelity scandal. I guess Nike said it best in March with this tweeted ad: "Winning Takes Care of Everything."
This could actually mean good news for Dwight Howard, who has been experiencing a little backlash of his own after leaving L.A. and the Lakers to join the Houston Rockets. Did you notice that he wasn't in the top five? But just think about it, after a couple of championships, he too can become the darling of the NBA once again!