28 HOURS BEFORE THE GAME
Lawry's, the storied prime rib house in Beverly Hills, is hosting the Dream Classic's official press conference. In a hall festooned with ornate tapestries and classical paintings, James holds court for three dozen members of the local and national press. It's the only time he's scheduled to speak, since Team LeBron isn't granting interviews these days. For 10 minutes LBJ discusses his priorities ("I'm team first, me second"), his diamond earrings ("These fake. They only cost 25 cents—gumball machine") and his take on the media circus ("It's real fun for me. When it stops being fun, I won't play no more. Then all y'all won't be here"). Scary but true: James could quit high school ball right now and still be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft this June.
Then it's over. Word has it that Tiger Woods, Magic Johnson and Denzel Washington have requested seats at Pauley tomorrow, but for glitz today we'll have to settle for Jaleel White, better known as TV's Urkel. "I've been coming to this tournament since Tyson Chandler was a freshman," he says while fist-bumping the Mater Dei and St. V-M players. "It's always fun to watch high school sports because the kids are just so innocent, man."
20 HOURS BEFORE THE GAME
It's 10 p.m., James's beloved Ohio State Buckeyes have just dispatched Miami in the Fiesta Bowl for the national title, and the seventh floor of the Sheraton Gateway Hotel is off the hook. "We did it! We did it! We did it! Nobody thought we could do it!" James yells, running at full speed toward his teammates' mosh pit in the hallway. "We gotta get downstairs! Let's go!" James says. For 10 minutes James and his mates career through the lobby, happily oblivious to the stares of their fellow guests.
EIGHT HOURS BEFORE THE GAME
Technicians in the ESPN truck are setting up outside Pauley Pavilion. Now that James has shown he can pull down big ratings, could it be long before we see a High School Game of the Week? While ESPN executive vice president of programming Mark Shapiro maintains that his network's two LeBron telecasts shouldn't be seen as the first step in a larger commitment to scholastic hoops, he adds that "we are open to all programming opportunities if there is consumer demand and schedule availability."
In other words, it could happen, which would be just fine with Sebastian (Bassie) Telfair, the flashy guard from Lincoln High in Brooklyn who is regarded as one of the nation's top juniors. "LeBron's changing the game for all the players who come after him," says Telfair, who also flew cross-country for the Dream Classic, in which his school, behind Telfair's 30 points, would beat Vallejo ( Calif.) 91-63-"That's what I want too—to be doing the same things next year."
15 MINUTES BEFORE THE GAME
Fighting Irish coach Joyce is concluding his pregame speech in the locker room. "Guys, there won't be any magic out there tonight," he intones.
James looks up. "But he may be at the game," he says.