By Barry Janoff
July 16, 2014: When LeBron James recently declared that he would be leaving the NBA's Miami Heat and returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, he was hailed as a favorite among fans, media and the general public for his loyalty to family, friends and hometown roots.
It turns out that James was already the favorite athlete among people in the U.S.
In a survey conducted by The Harris Poll weeks before James publicly made his decision. the 29-year-old James was for the first time named the America's Favorite Male Sports Star, topping former NBA player Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees, Peyton Manning of the NFL's Denver Broncos and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. (See the full poll here.)
James made his decision on July 11. The Harris Poll was conducted online among 2,241 adults between June 11-16. The survey coincided with the NBA Finals, which ran from June 5-15, during which James and the two-time defending NBA champion Heat were dethroned in five games by the San Antonio Spurs.
James, who was raised in Akron, played his first seven NBA seasons with the Cavaliers (2003-2010), then signed as a free agent with the Heat, where he teamed with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to win two NBA titles and four Eastern Conference titles. He now has a two-year deal with the Cavs valued at $42.1 million, per industry analysts.
He fell out of The Harris Poll Top Ten in 2011, the year after he moved from the Cavaliers to the Heat.
Concurrently, The Harris Poll also shows that tennis star Serena Williams is America's Favorite Female Sports Star, a position she has now held in five consecutive Harris survey.
Williams, the No. 1 ranked women's tennis player in the world and the holder of 17 career Grand Slam titles, finished ahead of Nascar driver Danica Patrick, sister Venus Williams, tennis star Maria Sharapova and retired soccer star Mia Hamm.
James made his decision on July 11. The Harris Poll was conducted online among 2,241 adults between June 11-16, which coincided with the NBA Finals.
Four female sports starts who dropped off the Top Ten list this year are boxer Layla Ali (from No. 6) soccer star Hope Solo (from No. 8), gymnast Shawn Johnson (from No. 9) and soccer player Abby Wambach (from No. 10).
On the other side of the men's list, dropping out of the Top Ten are former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow (No. 8 last year) and golfer Phil Mickelson (No. 9 in 2013). Tiger Woods also fell from No. 3 to No. 8, the lowest position he has had in The Harris Poll since 1999.
James, who was No. 2 last year behind Jordan and is currently is the majority owner of the NBA's Charlotte Hornets and the high-profile image of Nike's Jordan Brand, received more support from men than women, was tops among Hispanics who participated, and led among Millennials (ages 18-36) and Baby Boomers (ages 49-67).
Jeter, now in his final MLB season, was tops among White survey members and Matures (age 68 and older).
Jordan was No. 1 in the 2013 Harris Poll, Jeter was No. 1 in 2011 (there was no Harris Poll conducted in this category in 2012). Prior to that, Jordan, who retired as a player in 2003, was No. 1 from 1993-2005, and Woods was No. 1 from 2006-10 (tying with Bryant in 2010).
The Top Ten among male athletes also includes Nascar driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. (tied for No. 5 with Bryant), New England Patriots quarterback tom Brady (No. 7) and fellow quarterbacks Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints, No. 9) and Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers, No. 10).
Among female athletes, the Top Ten also included skier Lindsey Vonn (No. 6), tennis legend Billie Jean King (tied for No. 6), soccer star Alex Morgan (No. 8), tennis icon Chris Evert (tied for No. 8) and volleyball star Misty May-Treanor (No. 10).