LeBron James: Most Hated to Most Popular

By Reece Helms
Lebron James
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In a recent poll by ESPN, it was said that LeBron James is now the most popular player in the NBA, surpassing Los Angeles Lakers‘ superstar Kobe Bryant. I find this hard to believe, though I do think LeBron is gaining his popularity back after losing almost all of it a few years back.

“This fall, I will be taking my talents to South Beach, and will be joining the Miami Heat.” That statement didn’t do LeBron any favors in the least bit. The only people “The Decision” really benefited was the Miami Heat of course, and some charity foundation that was given millions of dollars that The Decision had earned. It sounded pretty good before it happened; Go on Live National television, announce where you will be playing next season, and millions of dollars will be donated to charity; what can go wrong?

Everything went wrong, except for the charity part. Cleveland Cavaliers fans were burning LeBron’s Cavalier jersey and did not have any kind things to say about him. Not only did the Cleveland fans feel that way, but so did a majority of the NBA fans and people across the world, which caused LeBron’s popularity to go way down, to about zero.

15.6 percent, that’s the percent of people that called LeBron James their favorite NBA player during his final season with the Cavaliers, before “The Decision”. What was the number after “The Decision” you might ask? 10.2 for his first season and 9.4 during his second season with Miami. That was a drastic change in that short of a time period.

During that time, it was hard to be a LeBron James fan. He was constantly being criticized for his lack of clutch play in the fourth quarter and even his hairline. You know little kids these days; we all know that guy that becomes a fan of a team the day after they win the Super Bowl. For a while there, people were jumping on the LeBron hate bandwagon, just watching his games to root against him, or not even watching them at all.

LeBron’s popularity and credibility took a huge hit in the 2011 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. He disappeared in that series, especially in the fourth quarter. LeBron James “you got change for a dollar jokes” and everything related to that took over social media. Some questioned if he was ever going to win an NBA Finals ring. We laugh at that today, but for a while it was a reality. He took his talents to South Beach to win not one, not two, not three, and after two seasons he didn’t even have one. LeBron was a joke.

Then the next season in the ECF against the Boston Celtics, the Heat were yet again staring at elimination in Game 6 on the road at the TD Garden. Many were saying it was over and the Heat stood no chance. There was no way LeBron was going to come through, the Celtics wouldn’t lose at home, and Chris Bosh was guaranteed to cry after the game. Well, that theory was quickly proven wrong as LeBron James arguably had the greatest performance of his career that night and propelled the Heat to victory. We all know what happened after that; the Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals, and LeBron finally captured that elusive ring he so greatly desired.

Then this past season, the Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 to win yet another ring, giving LeBron his second championship. Not only did the Heat win, but LeBron’s late jumper in Game 6 was as clutch as it gets.

So, what is LeBron’s popularity now? 18.9 percent of people claim LeBron as their favorite player, which is the highest of James’ entire career. Obviously the fact LeBron is a two-time NBA champion has a lot to do with this, but he has earned it.

LeBron James will also grace the cover of NBA 2K14, the ever so popular video game. Not only was he on the cover, but he also had the opportunity to choose the soundtrack. If this was the case a few years ago, people would be starting riots, but today they’re not. It was a long journey back to the top of the popularity list for LeBron. He has been the best player in the NBA for a while, but now we can call him “the most popular” too.

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