Posted by Matt Moore
Hail to the King, baby.
In a stunning development, the NBA today announced a change at the top of the NBA jersey-sales leaderboard. From the NBA:
LeBron James of the Miami Heat has grabbed the No. 1 spot on the NBA’s Most Popular Jerseys list, regaining the top ranking for the first time since April 2004. Los Angeles Lakers’ guard Kobe Bryant, who has owned the position since the start of the 2008-09 season, finished second overall for the 2010-11 season, while Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics rounds out the top three for the first time in his career.
Wait, the most hated man in America is now the most popular jersey-seller? He passed Kobe Bryant in the middle of a three-peat? Is this life?
The development comes as a continuation of James' recovering popularity, as evidenced by his improvement in Q Rating recently . It's strange that James would be having this resurgence, even if the evidence is based on that of the casual fan. The biggest storylines of this season surrounding James are of the whole crying thing, the Heat's struggles, his mother getting arrested, and him generally making comments which make him look bad. Those are the stories that reach casual fans. It's almost as if the rampant media criticism of James that has existed outside and occasionally within the halls of networks affiliated with the NBA has backfired.
Have we, the public, forgive James? Or is this more indicative of a disturbing concept: that "The Decision," as poorly conceived and even more poorly executed as it was, actually achieved its intended impact, of getting James on the market as a global commodity? James angered fans in two major markets by passing them up, and stands as the top of the Most Wanted list by contrast in L.A. where Kobe fans balk at his ringless hands laying claim to the title of Best Player Alive. He is the player Boston fans most love to defeat, rivaling even L.A. at times, it seems. And yet there is, at the top of the sales chart.
An alternative theory would be that James took over the top spot simply as a result of a team switch. All of the diehard LBJ fans who didn't turn on him after "The Decision" went out and bought new Miami gear. But I have a hard time believing James got big pickups from the biggest contingent of Cavs James jersey owners, those in the great state of Ohio, don't you? And given the perceived outcry and boo birds in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere, you'd have to think there's something more going on here than just collectors switching over.
James delivered P.R. nightmare after P.R. nightmare this season. He's been blackballed from the MVP vote on account of his perceived popularity. His team is third in the Eastern Conference, he has no championships, and his marketing agency does a poor job in representing him, bosom buddies though they may be. James' personality and game have spoken for themselves, and whether we like it or not, it's working.
Hail to the King. Not the champ, but the King.
Here's the run down of the numbers.
Top 15 Most Popular NBA Jerseys:
1. LeBron James, Miami Heat
2. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
3. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
4. Amar’e Stoudemire, New York Knicks
5. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
6. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
7. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
8. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
9. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
10. John Wall, Washington Wizards
11. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
12. Shaquille O’Neal, Boston Celtics
13. Ray Allen, Boston Celtics
14. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics
15. Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics