Begin here: I didn't/don't/won't care where LeBron James plays basketball next year. It's the NBA; it's irrelevant to me. If he opted to pull a Jordan and play the outfield in somebody's farm system, I'd be interested; beyond that, nothing.
But I am struck by the parallels between James and one Joseph Patrick Mauer — both of them major stars in their respective sports, born within a few months of each other, drafted by their (essentially) hometown teams, with plenty of regular season successes on their resumes and no championship rings on their fingers.
One stayed. The other left.
I believe this: That at the pinnacle of American sports today, the greatest reverence is given to the superstars who stay put — who become, in the public eye, synonymous with the uniform.
Cal Ripken with Baltimore. Derek Jeter with the Yankees. Tony Gwynn with the Padres. Kirby Puckett with the Twins. You can come up with their equivalents in the other sports if you feel like it.
We prefer the guys who take the responsibility for the situation they're in and try to make it better. The guys who bounce around looking for a bigger payday or a cushier situation, not so much.
Had Alex Rodriguez stayed with the Seattle Mariners in the winter of 1999-2000, I believe he would be a beloved figure nationally. He's richer financially for the choice he (and his agent) made, but he's never going to shed the "A-Fraud" label. Brett Favre's become a national punchline for his waffling; I think the snickers would be far fewer and much softer if he hadn't turned himself into a wanderer chasing one more ring.
Maybe James is going to win a whole bunch of titles in Miami. Maybe the three superstars and a bunch of scrubs concept will fall apart over the reality of one ball per court. I don't know enough about pro basketball to have an opinion worth your time.
But his national persona — the LeBron James brand, if you will — is diminished today, diminished permanently. He's never going to get it back.