Seven years after his retirement as a basketball player, Michael Jordan remains the MOST MARKETABLE ATHLETE in the world — by far.
Jordan’s distinction in that regard has only been enhanced by the ridiculous media circus surrounding last night’s announcement by LeBron James that he’s taking his basketball talents to Miami for at least a while. One gets the sense that most sports fans found the protracted process an insufferable ego trip on the part of King James.
Whether LeBron’s skills as a player are the equal of Michael’s — or even better — remains to be determined by history. But it’s doubtful that James will ever enjoy the overall popularity that Jordan still commands.
Nate Silver, the greatest triple-threat (politics, polling and sports) of our time, offers a few INTERESTING SLANTS on these and other angles of the LeBron James phenomenon.
[T]here are signs that public opinion on James has soured significantly. In an unscientific poll conducted by SI.com, 81 percent of respondents now claim to have a negative opinion of James, whereas 78 percent had a positive opinion prior to free agency.
Some of the fans in the SI poll surely had a vested interest in the outcome — particularly those who root for the Cavaliers, Bulls and Knicks, whom James spurned. According to commoncensus.org; the New York Knicks are the favorite team in 10 markets totaling 23.1 million people, the Chicago Bulls in 19 markets totaling 18.0 million people (the Bulls are popular in Missouri and Iowa, which have no NBA teams), and the Cavaliers in 14 markets totaling 11.8 million people. By contrast, the Heat’s market is relatively small at 8.3 million people, and has a smaller percentage of African-Americans than do Chicago and New York. (Black Americans are two-and-half times more likely to be NBA fans than the population average, according to polling conducted by YouGov.)
But James may also have sullied his reputation among more neutral observers for the self-important and humorless way that he came to his decision, including a one-hour special on ESPN that was part newscast and part infomercial.