After four years, two titles and a well-choreographed return to his hometown team, LeBron James has a reputation among the American public that is finally near the level it was at before his disastrous "Decision" in July 2010.
According to E-Poll, which surveyed 1,100 people ages 13 and up this month about the four-time NBA MVP, James' reputation has taken a significant jump from last year. E-Poll measures reputation on a 0-100 scale, with 100 being extremely well-liked and respected. Michael Jordan has been known to score near or at the top of the list of athletes.
James registered a 67 in July 2013 and an 80 this month.
"He has been on a roller coaster, with all the peaks and valleys you'd expect," Gerry Philpott, president and CEO of E-Poll, told ESPN. "I think the loss to the Spurs actually helped him, made him look more human, and then his coming back to Cleveland, and the way he did it, did even more to change how people viewed him. I think a big part of that was how deep he went on admitting why his original decision wasn't handled right."
In June 2010, before he publicly announced that he would be leaving Cleveland for Miami, James' E-Poll reputation was at 84. By September of that year it had dropped to 47, and after the Heat's loss to the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals it hit rock bottom -- 40.
Since then James has won two MVP awards and two championship rings, and his reputation has hovered around 70. But his graceful exit from Miami, and perhaps even his team's crushing loss to the Spurs in last month's Finals, have led the public to sympathize with and embrace James once again.
Philpott said James may never reach the near-perfect score of Jordan, but he wouldn't be surprised to see James top out above 90 before he retires.
As we've seen before, reputation can slip out of an athlete's grasp rather quickly. In May 2013, E-Poll and Nielsen named Tim Tebow the country's most influential athlete.. Now, a little more than a year later, he can't find his way onto an NFL roster.
The poll's participants also appear to be heavily swayed by recent events. For example, in the 2012 year-end report, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas scored a 98, finishing second behind only Jordan. Fellow Olympians Michael Phelps (98) and Aly Raisman (95) finished close behind.