LeBron passes Kobe as NBA’s most popular

Two titles have seemed to heal some wounds for fans of LeBron James.

The Miami Heat forward is, for the first time in four years, the most popular player in NBA, according to the latest ESPN Sports Poll.

Nearly 13 percent (12.9) of NBA fans said that James was their favorite player this season, allowing him to best Kobe Bryant (12.5) for the first time since the 2008-2009 season. That was the only other season where James passed the Los Angeles Lakers star, who was the top pick by fans for five out of six years from the 2006-07 to 2011-12 seasons.

After “The Decision,” James’ approval rating slipped drastically. For his final season in Cleveland, 15.6 percent of fans called him their favorite, according to the ESPN Sports Poll taken after the 2009-10 season. But for his first two years with the Heat, James was only called the favorite player by 10.2 and 9.4 percent, respectively.

But James became easier to love thanks in part to his play on the court, which led to two titles with two finals MVP awards. While casual fans of the league still didn’t like him as much as they did at the height of his Cleveland days, the most recent ESPN Sports Poll shows that more avid NBA fans (18.9 percent) call James their favorite today than any other point in his career.

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 that 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 said Bryant.

Rounding out the top five most popular NBA players are Kevin Durant (3.6 percent), Derrick Rose (2.8) and Dwyane Wade (2.6).

This article was originally posted on ESPN.com