5 redeemed sports villains who became heroes

After announcing his move back to Cleveland, LeBron James is on the road to redemption. Here are five sporting villains he can learn from.

Peter Iantorno July 16, 2014

In one of the most surprising turnarounds in sporting history, LeBron James - the NBA’s biggest star - shocked fans all over the world by announcing he is going home to the Cleveland Cavaliers after an unceremonious departure for the Miami Heat in 2010.

Such was the fury provoked by James’ leaving that fans burned replicas of his famous 23 jersey and Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavaliers, wrote an open letter condemning his decision to abandon his hometown club.

But having won two championships and been named a four-time MVP, James has decided to return to Cleveland and chase NBA titles in his hometown. Though we can't say for sure until opening day of the NBA season, we reckon he’ll be welcomed back with open arms.

There aren't many U-turns that can match LeBron's, but here are the other sports stars who have managed to come back from rock bottom:

David Beckham

42-46741203 Probably the most universally loved footballer of his generation, it’s easy to forget he was once the most hated man in English football. Two years after bursting onto the scene for Manchester United by scoring a stunning goal from inside his own half, England had high hopes that Beckham would lead them to glory in the 1998 World Cup.

The tournament started well for the Becks, as he scored a trademark free-kick against Colombia in the group stages. But everything came crumbling down when England faced Argentina in the round of 16 and Beckham was sent off for a petulant kick on Diego Simeone.

England were knocked out on penalties, and Beckham was made public enemy number one by the UK press, regularly being booed - even at his home ground Old Trafford - and effigies of him were hung from lampposts.

However, we all know now that Beckham is made of extremely stern stuff, and he overcame the criticism to earn back the respect of fans and journalists by almost single-handedly sending England through to the 2002 World Cup. Since then he’s gone on to become a global icon and an ambassador for sport.

Lawrence Dallaglio

DWF15-495554 In 1999, rugby union player Lawrence Dallaglio was captain of the England team. However, when he was accused of being a drug dealer in his younger days and even taking drugs while on tour with the Lions in 1997, he resigned.

A lengthy investigation ensued, which resulted in Dallaglio being fined £15,000 for bringing the game into disrepute. The England number eight put the controversy behind him and worked hard for his club side London Wasps until his moment of glory finally came in the 2003 World Cup.

Despite having lost his captaincy to Leicester’s Martin Johnson, Dallaglio was the only member of the England team to play every minute of every game - including setting up his side's try in the final - as England went on to beat Australia and lift their first World Cup.

His career ended in fitting fashion in 2008 as he guided Wasps to the Guiness Premiership title in front of more than 81,000 people at Twickenham, beating Johnson's Leicester side in the process.

Eric Cantona

42-45835579 On January 25, 1995, Manchester United’s Eric Cantona was involved in one of the most controversial incidents football has ever seen. In an away match against Crystal Palace, a home fan shouted some thing less than kind at Cantona. In response, the fiery-tempered Frenchman promptly jumped into the crowd, delivering what can only be described as a kung-fu kick, followed by a furious barrage of punches.

Obviously Cantona was sent off for this outrageous bout of ill discipline and given a hefty ban that ruled him out for the rest of the season.

With murmurs that he wanted to leave, there were huge concerns about Cantona’s commitment to the club. But the next season he returned to action as United won the league and FA Cup double, with Cantona scoring the winning goal in the cup final.

The season after that Cantona was named as the club’s captain, and he led United to yet another title win, cementing his status as a club legend.

Christine Ohuruogu

christine British athlete Ohuruogu wasn't a villain per se, but she certainly faced some tough times and she has definitely experienced redemption.

The 400-metre specialist was banned from competing in the 2006 European Athletics Championships after committing a doping violation. Although there was no suspicion that she’d actually taken any banned drugs, the fact that she missed three tests was enough to see her suspended from the sport for a year.

The British Olympic Association also imposed a lifetime ban on Ohuruogu competing for her country at the Olympic Games. However, she appealed and it was eventually overturned.

Just a day after her ban had finished, Ohuruogu was selected for the British team at the 2007 World Championships, and she duly won the gold in the individual 400 metres. A year later her redemption was complete when she triumphed in the 400 metres at the Beijing Olympics to become the first ever British female 400 metre champion.

She’s since been awarded an MBE for her services to sport.

Muhammad Al

U96166117 For a man who is now widely regarded as not just the greatest boxer but also the greatest sportsman ever, it's fascinating to remind ourselves that Muhammad Ali wasn’t always on top of the world.

In 1963, after becoming the heavyweight champion of the world at the age of just 22, Ali – or Cassius Clay as he was then known – was already on his way to greatness.

But in 1967 he was stripped of his title and had his boxing licence suspended for his refusal to be drafted into the US army for the Vietnam War. He was also sentenced to five years in jail and fined $10,000, but remained free while his case was on appeal.

After four years his appeal case was finally heard in court, and by then public opinion of the war had plummeted and Ali was found not guilty.

He returned to the sport in 1970, and we all know the rest…