Time heals all wounds, and in the case of NBA fans, it appears they have moved past "hating" on LeBron James for bolting Cleveland via a nationally televised event and then parading on stage in Miami before even winning anything. A recent ESPN poll shows that LeBron James is the most popular player in the NBA for the first time since 2009 (pre The Decision).
Die-hard fans seem to like James even more than the casual fan, and becoming not only the consensus "greatest player alive," but also vying for a shot at being considered one of the Top 5 to ever play the game has helped his approval rating.
Kobe Bryant comes in as the second most popular player, and his popularity is stronger with the older crowd. Kevin Durant is the third most "favorited," and former MVP and self-professed "best player in the NBA" Derrick Rose is still the fourth most popular. LeBron's teammate, Dwyane Wade cracked the top five.
For the first time in four years, the Miami Heat forward is the most popular player in the NBA, according to the latest ESPN Sports Poll.
Nearly 13 percent (12.9) of NBA fans said James was their favorite player this season, allowing him to best Kobe Bryant (12.5) for the first time since the 2008-09 season. That was the only other season when James passed the Los Angeles Lakers star, the top pick by fans for five of six years from 2006-07 to 2011-12. [...]
The numbers show that James separated himself from Bryant thanks to greater support of the African-American population. Twenty-four percent of African-Americans said James was their favorite player this season compared to only 16 percent mentioning Bryant. James also skewed younger, as 18 percent of kids 12-17 said they preferred him while only 15 percent preferred Bryant.
Rounding out the top five are Kevin Durant (3.6 percent), Derrick Rose (2.8) and Dwyane Wade (2.6)