LeBron James' difficult path back to popularity

LeBron JamesIt has been nearly three months since LeBron James made the decision to take his talents to South Beach.  During this period of controversy and consternation, iFollo.com has provided readers with the current and historical ramifications of “the decision” and on the ground insight/photos discussing the Akron life and legacy of LeBron.

Now, as the Miami Heat immerse themselves in training camp at Hurlburt Field (part of Elgin Air Force Base) in Okaloosa County, Florida, it is an appropriate time to assess the slide in LeBron's national popularity and what type of reception may lie ahead for LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat traveling road show.

According to the latest Q Score report, James has moved from being among the most popular current athletes, to one of the most vilified.  This metamorphosis has resulted exclusively from James' decision to leave Cleveland and the questionable manner in which he made his intentions known.  LeBron joins names like Michael Vick, Alex Rodriguez, Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant on this very undesirable list. It is remarkable to note the reasons behind LeBron's fall from grace, as compared to the other household icons noted in this ranking of unpopularity.

LeBron has never served jail time, cheated his sport, nor been exposed for foibles in his personal life. Yet, he is now grouped together with athletes who have committed all the above acts of indecency.  James has become a pariah strictly for professional actions and judgments, it has zero to do with his life away from basketball. This means that James can either regain his positive stature quickly or fall further if the Heat become an NBA dynasty.  A run of four or five NBA Titles is certainly within reason for this Heat roster.

The Heat do not generate a national following similar to that of the Yankees and Lakers.  Despite fan issues with Rodriguez and Bryant, these players will always have a significant contingent of supporters throughout the country, because they happen to play for the most prominent teams in their respective sports. The recent championships won by the Yankees and Lakers were widely celebrated by their massive fan bases, the Heat are years away from garnering love from fans outside of South Florida.

Woods possesses a similar luxury due to the fact that many golf fans are not actually golf fans, but instead are Tiger fans.  Those folks will always support Woods, no matter how he has conducted his business away from the course.

It will be interesting to see how LeBron handles all of this national scrutiny.  He has spent his career living amid a hometown bubble and extremely receptive treatment on the road.  Hence forward, he will be less of an attraction and more of a target.  This will almost certainly be the case in every arena outside of Miami.  LeBron's ability to handle this battering may be the determining factor in his quest to fill his fingers with multiple rings.  

Will LeBron James be comfortable trading championships for popularity?  We shall see over the next few seasons of NBA basketball.