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The LeBron James Miami Heat jersey: to wear or not to wear?

They know LeBron isn't coming back, but Ramezy Roque and his girlfriend, Virginia Paris, still wear a Miami Heat jersey with No. 6 on the front and "James" on the back. James has earned that respect, Roque says.

"We wouldn't have those two NBA championship banners up there without him," says Roque, of Kendall, seated in the lower bowl of the Oct. 7 exhibition game against Orlando. "He's one of the best. Why not show him the respect?"

Roque represents one side of a complicated relationship Heat fans are having with a South Florida clothing staple of the past four years: the LeBron jersey. What is loyalty? Is it proper to pay homage to a star player who ditched us? Is it fair to the Heat to keep wearing it?

Leon Dixon of Miami, sitting in the fifth row and wearing street clothes says he can no longer wear his LeBron jersey. "I'm not upset," he says, "but I have all kinds of emotions about it. But it's just too weird."

Roque notes that he rotates his James jersey with those of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and even Mike Miller, who was released by the Heat more than a year ago.

"I still wear Alonzo Mourning and Jason Williams, too," Roque says. "We know players are going to leave. It's just [James] left a little sooner than we wanted."

NBAStore.com reports that James' jersey has been the annual best seller six times in his career, including during his past four seasons with the Heat. The NBA does not reveal exact sales figures.

From a fashion point of view, the LeBron jersey eventually could be considered a vintage item, says Brad Minto, owner of the Archives Boutique, a premium sneakers store on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. But Minto thinks too soon for Heat fans to wear it.

"I have mixed feelings on it," he says. "Would I wear it at an opening game? No, I'd pay more respect to the players on the team. But you don't need to go burn it, either."

Christian End, an associate professor at Xavier University, who blogs on sports and society for Psychology Today, says Miami Heat fans are in more of a quandary than Cleveland fans were when James left them in 2010. Cleveland fans haven't experienced a championship since the Browns won the NFL title in 1964, while Miami teams have won two World Series and three NBA championships since 1993.

"So fans are wondering how good their team is going to be, or do they stick with the guy they almost know is going to be the best player?" End says. "They're motivated to identify with a successful entity, and LeBron might be the safer bet."

Kimberly A. Taylor, an associate professor of marketing at Florida International University's school of business, says she still sees Dan Marino's and Jason Taylor's names on Miami Dolphins jerseys.

"But this is a real interesting case, because people here don't begrudge LeBron for leaving," she says. "But that said, I'm sure each current Heat player would love to see more of their own jersey out there. But then, there's the economics. You can't just buy a new jersey every year. They're expensive."

Cost is why fans at the Miami-Orlando game sheepishly admit they were wearing new LeBron jerseys. Four groups of tourists — from France, Argentina, Brazil and Germany — say they bought their No. 6 LeBrons at nearby Bayside.

"Fifty percent off," says Florian Durner, from Germany.

Sporting-goods stores elsewhere in South Florida also have the LeBron jerseys on clearance, including the Sports Authority in Fort Lauderdale, where on Monday only children's sizes were available.

Deberly Anzueto, who came from Orlando with two other friends, says she'll wear her hair down over her No. 6 jersey, to cover up James' name.

"It broke our hearts, but I just don't want to get a new jersey," she says, as her friend, Rebecca Tanner grumbles, "The Cavs can suck it."

Meanwhile, Kyandre Johnson, of Miami, is in the too-hurt-to-wear-it camp. But he has a solution.

"I'm buying a Wade," he says. "Real soon."

Nsortal@SouthFlorida.com

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