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Thursday, June 26, 2003
Updated: July 22, 4:43 PM ET
Following the man in white

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Just down the street from Manhattan's fashion district, LeBron James turned heads at the NBA draft not because of the basketball skills that made him the overall No. 1 pick. No, jaws started dropping at a little before 6 p.m. outside the Theatre at Madison Square Garden when James showed up in a pure white suit.

During the next hour-and-a-half -- up until the exact moment his NBA career started at 7:34 p.m. -- it was hard to miss James wherever he went. Blame the threads if you must, but the anticipated spotlight still managed to astonish.

6:07 p.m.: More than 20 photographers angle for a shot of James, who has made his way to his assigned table by the stage. The only other player who is generating any flashes is Carmelo Anthony. Darko Milicic, Kirk Hinrich, Maciej Lampe, Nick Collison and almost every other player with a table by the stage all seem lonely.

LeBron James
It wasn't hard to spot LeBron James in the Theater on Thursday night. And he was usually smiling.

6:09 p.m.: With photographers on their second or third rolls of film, James remains seated at his table. James, sporting huge diamond earrings and a diamond watch, is drinking water, trying to act normal. He makes small talk with Anthony (TV microphones hone in on every word). Photographers weave in and out like they have just spotted an endangered species and want to make sure they have enough pictures to show friends at home who won't believe them.

6:11 p.m.: Time for the group photo. James is the last player on the right. Most photographers don't care about the group. They are only focusing on James. James has the best smile in the group. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. James is having trouble keeping his smile. It's been a minute's worth of pictures -- all the same shot. He laughs at how long the process is taking. LeBron's finally figured it out. If he turns sideways, the photographers won't have a good shot. He turns sideways.

6:18 p.m.: After Stern joins the picture, random people --supposedly officials from NBA sponsors -- come in to take a shot with the group. Two stand by James, he shakes their hands as they stand next to him.

6:24 p.m.: Back to his table, where a microphone and TV camera immediately descend upon his face. It's a producer from NBA TV. He asks LeBron some questions.

6:25 p.m.: Tom Reed, a reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal, asks James what color his suit is. "It's white cream," James said.

6:26 p.m.: NBA TV shoots James' extremely valuable watch. "Did you get that watch?" James said.

6:31 p.m. A young kid comes by LeBron's table and gets LeBron's autograph

6:32 p.m.: Kid puts the ball on eBay. (Just kidding.)

6:34 p.m. James gazes at the draft board. Looks at all the teams that can't pick him.

6:36 p.m.: Milicic is talking with his fellow European draftees. There are no microphones or cameras in sight, much to his chagrin. He says he likes people to take pictures of him. "Yeah, it's fun," Darko says.

6:47 p.m.: More than 10 cameras are set up ready for LeBron's first NBA news conference. Two reporters are even waiting to get LeBron's first quotes. (It's still more than 30 minutes before his name is called.)

6:50 p.m.: The crowd comes rushing in to the Theatre, knocking over barriers and starting to practice their "Fire Layden" chant -- aimed at New York Knicks general manager Scott Layden.

7:04 p.m.: LeBron's table is finally full. His mom, Gloria James, agent Aaron Goodwin, and his buddy, Maverick Carter (who is wearing almost an exact copy of James' suit.) The two don't act as if their choice of attire is an accident.

7:05 p.m.: James stands up and waves to his fans in the crowd. Some chest-thumping is also involved. Many of them are wearing wine T-shirts with "James" and No. 23 on it. The shirts will be sold on James' official Web site (www.lebronjames.com), within the next three weeks, says the Web site's editor, Chris Dennis.

7:27 p.m.: Highlights of this year's draft class are playing on the big screen. LeBron watches his own reel that ends with a monster slam.

7:32 p.m.: David Stern walks to the podium. He announces that the Cleveland Cavaliers have five minutes to make their pick.

(James laughs.)

7:34 p.m.: Stern announces that James is now a Cleveland Cavalier. Jerseys immediately go on sale outside the theatre. A wine-and-gold replica Cavs jersey with James and No. 23 is selling for $60. Ca-ching. Ca-ching. (Note: Only five players wore No. 23 last year. The pressure's on.) James shakes Stern's hand and poses for the photographers once again.

7:37 p.m.: The "Chosen One" is escorted to an interview with Michele Tafoya for ESPN's broadcast. During the interview, the crowd chants, "Overrated. Overrated. Overrated."

7:40 p.m.: James goes to his second interview of the night, ESPN Radio. Two minutes later, he is escorted by security guards up the stairs. As he leaves the Theatre, more than a few folks in the crowd and James exchange high fives. James slaps as many as he can as he exits (it feels like he just won a heavyweight fight). As he walks into the lobby, about 80 people follow with sharpies and pictures in hand screaming at James.

7:44 p.m.: James arrives for his first official news conference. His first words as an NBA player? "That was a bumpy ride up here," he said.

7:46 p.m.: LeBron gets another question about his suit. "I just think I look pretty good in all white. You think so?" He says he had six designers submit designs. He went with Carl and Billy from Chicago.

7:47 p.m.: James is giving one of the best interviews some of these reporters have ever seen. He's a pro. He answers questions from reporters by using their names ("Chris," as in Chris Broussard of the New York Times; or "Tony," when he answers a question from Tony Rizzo, a broadcaster from the Fox affiliate in Cleveland.)

7:48 p.m.: LeBron takes his first shot at the Cavs. "My high school crowds were bigger than the Cavs crowd," he says.

7:49 p.m.: Somebody has to ask the money question ... so, I ask: "What will your new shoes be called?" James stops himself mid-sentence, just before letting the secret out. "There are a couple of names right now," he says. "I'm undecided."

7:55 p.m.: James does another interview with NBA TV. Afterward, James says, "I need to go to the NBA bathroom."

7:59 p.m.: Sits down with ESPN.com for online chat. He's told there are 13,539 questions waiting for him. "I can't answer 13,000 questions," James jokes.

8:05 p.m.: Finally, a bathroom break for "King James". A security guard follows him into the King John.

8:07 p.m.: More interviews. Mike Snyder of the Cavs radio network. Rizzo gets a one-on-one for the Fox affiliate. The ABC and CBS affiliates need a few minutes. The Best Damn Sports Show. ESPN International. Seems everyone asks the same questions, LeBron gives the same answers.

8:27 p.m.: Finally, nearly an hour into his NBA career, James asks, "Am I done?"

Maybe for tonight. But, he knows the craziness has just started. It's going to be this way, every day, for a long, long time, LeBron.

Darren Rovell is a sports business writer for ESPN.com.