By Barry Janoff
July 17, 2013: As Spike Lee as Mars Blackmon used to say in Nike commercials regarding Michael Jordan's ability to outshine his opponents, "It must be the shoes."
Jordan has not played in the NBA since 2003 and the Charlotte Bobcats, where he is majority owner, are 28-120 over the past two seasons.
But thanks to his Hall of Fame legacy, current marketing alliances that include Nike's Jordan Brand, Hanes and PepsiCo's Gatorade as well as a variety of other activations with which he is associated, Jordan was named "America's Favorite Male Athlete" in The Harris Poll, conducted by Harris Interactive.
In the survey, Jordan came out ahead of LeBron James, who last month lead the Miami Heat to their second consecutive NBA championship, Tiger Woods and NFL quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. James was not among the top ten in the previous Harris Poll.
Tennis star Serena Williams ranked as "America's Favorite Female Athlete" for the fourth consecutive time and the fifth time in the last five Harris Poll surveys. The top five favorite female athletes also include (in order) Danica Patrick, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and retired soccer icon Mia Hamm.
Jordan ranked as the No. 1 favorite athlete in every Harris Poll from 1993-2005, but has not held the top spot since then. Derek Jeter was No. 1 in the previous poll and Kobe Bryant in the poll before that.
Jordan's return to the top of The Harris Poll can be traced to young adults: He was ranked No. 1 by both Echo Boomers (ages 18-35) and Gen X (ages 36-47). Older people who were surveyed went for Woods: He was No. 1 among Baby Boomers (ages 48-66) and Matures (67-plus).
Regarding ethnicity, Peyton Manning was No. 1 among whites, James No. 1 among African Americans and Jordan tops among Hispanics in The Harris Poll.
Jordan Brand had 58% of the basketball shoe market in 2012, according to research firm SportsOneSource. Jordan himself earns about $80 million annually from marketing deals, according to industry analysts.
After Hamm, there are five names among the top ten female athletes who did not make the previous list: Layla Ali, Lindsey Vonn, Hope Solo, Shawn Johnson and Abby Wambach.
Having confirmed their relationship, Woods and Vonn might be regarded as the most popular sports couple in America.
The top ten favorite male athletes also included Jeter, Kobe Bryant and three newcomers to the list: Tim Tebow, Phil Mickelson and Dale Earnhard Jr. Albert Pujols, Hines Ward, Derrick Rose and Aaron Rodgers were not on the 2013 list after having been ranked among the top ten in the previous Harris Poll.
Bryant has had the biggest drop in The Harris Poll, from No. 1 in 2010 to No. 7 this year. Jeter went from No. 1 in the last poll to No. 6, mainly due to the fact that he had not played any games this season at the time the Harris Poll was conducted due to an injury suffered during the 2012 post-season.
Meanwhile, Woods moved up from No. 5 to No 3 after having been ranked as No. 1 from 2006-10.
Jordan, Woods and James are the only three athletes in the current top ten who were among the top ten in 2003.
The 2013 Harris Poll was conducted online within the U.S. June 12-17, 2013, among 2,210 adults (ages 18 and over).
See the full Harris Poll here.
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