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James dethrones Jordan as most popular U.S. athlete - poll

(Reuters) - LeBron James has overtaken Michael Jordan as the United States' most popular athlete, according to a Harris poll.

Almost from the moment James exploded onto the NBA scene as the number one overall pick in the 2003 draft a debate has raged over who was the better of the two basketball superstars.

Jordan had held the top honor from 1993-2005 and again in 2013 before being supplanted this year by James, who was ranked number two in 2013.

It is likely that James is even more popular after the four-time NBA most valuable player decided last week to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers following a successful four year run with the Miami Heat that brought the team two NBA titles.

The poll was conducted between June 11 and 16 before James, a 10-time All-Star, made his decision.

New York Yankee Derek Jeter, who is retiring at the end of the Major League Baseball season, moves up three spots to third.

Rounding out the top five are Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning at four with the Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant and NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. tied for fifth.

Tiger Woods, who had been number one for five straight years from 2006, dropped from third last year to eighth.

There was no change at the top among America's most favorite female athletes with tennis player Serena Williams for a fifth straight year while NASCAR driver Danica Patrick remained number two.

Tennis players dominated the top with Venus Williams remaining third followed by Maria Sharapova and soccer player Mia Hamm at five.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Gene Cherry)

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