Poll: LeBron voted most popular

ByDarren Rovell ESPN logo
Thursday, July 17, 2014

LeBron James is the most popular male athlete in America for the first time in his career.

So says a new Harris Poll, which surveyed what it says is a representative sample of 2,241 people in the U.S. last month.

James, whose highest ranking was No. 2 last season, topped retired Chicago Bulls star and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, who had the distinction of being No. 1 from 1993 through 2005.

It was a long road for James to get to the top. In 2011, the year after his "Decision" to go to Miami, James fell completely out of the top 10.

James was most popular among the 18-36 and 49-67 age demographics, while the poll reflected that Generatrion Xers (37-48) preferred Jordan.

Rounding out the top 5 is retiring New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and in a tie for fifth is Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Three of the top four most popular women are tennis players. The Williams sisters, Serena (No. 1) and Venus (No. 3), are joined at the top by Maria Sharapova (No. 4). Despite her inability to get into Victory Lane, Danica Patrick took the No. 2 spot, while retired soccer player Mia Hamm came in at No. 5.

The sport that has the most popular male athletes in the top 10 is, not surprisingly, football. After Manning at No. 4, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is No. 7, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is No. 9 and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers snuck into the top 10 at No. 10.

The favorite male athlete list includes only one player who has retired (Jordan), but the women's list includes four athletes in the top 10 who have hung it up: Hamm, tennis greats Billy Jean King (tied for sixth) and Chris Evert (tied for eighth) and beach volleyball player Misty May-Treanor (No. 10).

Two male athletes dropped off the list from last year -- Phil Mickelson and Tim Tebow.