by Lang Whitaker | @langwhitaker

Thurs, July 8, 4:24 PM — In case you haven’t heard, tonight around 9:00 PM on ESPN, LeBron James is going to announce which team he will be playing for next season. This is the most important decision OF ALL TIME, as evidenced by the live hour of TV time ESPN turned over to Bron. Guess they were out of re-runs of “The World Series of Poker.”

Jokes aside, this has been a crazy few weeks. He was staying in Cleveland, he was going to Miami, he was coming to New York, and as of Wednesday night it appeared Miami was back in the lead. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that this has been the overriding sports story of the last few weeks, and right now (at least in the US) it’s a bigger deal than the World Cup Final. I’ve been doing hits on radio shows ad nauseum all week to talk about this, and yesterday a woman here at the office who I hadn’t spoken to once in ten years asked me where LeBron was signing.

And I don’t know. I really don’t, and I’m not even sure that right now, less than five hours before the announcement, that LeBron knows what he’s going to do. I think Ryan summed up the current state of affairs the best earlier today. If you haven’t read that, you should.

Since we can’t run from it, I’ll be embracing it and watching live tonight and liveblogging it below. Hang around, make some comments, and once LeBron spills the beans, we can break it all down.

8:40 PM — Well, the LeBronathan is rolling on ESPN. Just caught Brian Windhorst from the Cleveland Plain-Dealer on ESPN saying that it would be devastating to Cleveland and Ohio if LeBron leaves. No kidding. For all this talk about Miami over the last 24 hours, I just don’t see how Bron can leave Akron, leave Cleveland, leave Ohio…especially in an hour-long special on national TV. I haven’t talked to any inside sources, haven’t heard anything…just a gut feeling.

8:47 PM — Lots of NBA folk on Twitter seem to think Miami is going to be the choice. Tim Legler just said he thinks Bron could play point for Miami. He may have to if he goes there, because the Heat will only have 5 players on the roster. Our man Eboy may start at the two on opening night.

8:55 PM — Chris Broussard just said it’s still Miami in the lead and Cleveland is still in the picture. Windhorst just tweeted “remember this is LeBron’s decision and his alone.” Time to go!

9:00 PM — And we’re on! Well, I thought the theme song might be “Empire State of Mind,” which would’ve been telling. Instead we see a montage of LeBron highlights and a seriously-narrated series of video clips. LeBron is described, rightly or wrongly, as the most coveted free agent in the history of the game.

9:02 PM — This special, “The Decision,” is being sponsored by Bing. I’m going to have to google that and see what it is.

9:04 PM – Mike Wilbon plays the “economically depressed” card when talking about Ohio and notes that LeBron means so much to Ohio, but ABC TV’s Jon Barry interjects that LeBron doesn’t owe them anything. Which I disagree with. Cavs fans have supported him for the last seven years. Surely that’s worth something?

9:09 PM – We’re almost ten minutes into this show and the ABC halftime crew is still sitting around talking about the same possibilities everyone on ESPN and sports talk radio has been chewing on since July 1. Not exactly compelling viewing here.

9:11 PM – First commercial break of the night. BTW, absolutely NOTHING HAS HAPPENED so far. Except when they just showed a bunch of photoshopped images of what LeBron would look like in different jerseys. Maybe the best thing about this so far is that if anything it’s actually cut down on the amount of talking heads popping up on ESPN gabbing about this.

9:16 PM — Still nothing has happened. Stuart Scott just asked the guys on the panel for their predictions. Great.

9:17 PM — Scott: “We’ll find out LeBron’s decision in just a few minutes…but first…” Sigh. Another commercial break.

9:22 PM – Finally, we’re back and LeBron is on the set at the Boys and Girls Club in Greenwich, CT, alongside Jim Gray. Time for the announcement…

9:23 PM — LeBron says the process has been “everything I thought…and more.” He says he’s enjoyed the recruiting process and thanks all six teams he sat with. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff here.

9:24 PM — LeBron says he decided this morning. Felt different ways on different days, but this morning he woke up, had a “great conversation” with his Mom, and after that conversation he was set.

9:26 PM – LeBron says he has no doubts about his decision and he’s ready to announce it…

9:27 PM – MIAMI. LeBron mumbles that it’s tough for him to say it just before he says it. A murmur goes through the room there in Greenwich.

9:28 PM — Wow. Wow. Wow.

9:30 PM  — Bron says it’s not like “leaving Cleveland is the whole logistic of it.” Says he would have loved to stay in Cleveland in a perfect world, but it was time for him move on. Bron says Akron will always be home for him.

9:33 PM — Bron says his mother told him to do what’s best for him and what will make him happy, and that was what helped him make the decision.

9:34 — Gotta say, for all his talk about doing this to make him happy, LeBron doesn’t seem very happy right now.

9:36 — Back to the studio, where Chris Broussard has now disappeared. Dude probably ran off on vacation. He totally deserves one.

9:37 PM – Wilbon asks Bron how tough this has been and Bron says it’s been heavy. He thanks a bunch of former coaches and teammates and ownership back to Gordon Gund.

9:39 PM — Tell you what, Pat Riley’s nickname from now on should be The Closer.

9:48 PM – LeBron is working hard not to say anything much of interest — he definitely doesn’t seem thrilled about this, but I’m guess that’s as much out of respect for Cleveland as anything else. He says that while Miami doesn’t have much besides himself, Bosh and Wade, their job is going to be to lift the guys around them. Wilbon asks about the contract and Bron says all three guys are going to take less money so they can play together. Bron also notes that the upcoming CBA negotiations did play into his decision, but also notes that he did leave money on the table in order to have this opportunity.

9:50 PM – Wilbon shows Bron footage of fans in Cleveland burning his jersey, and LeBron says “I can’t get involved in that… I hope the fans understand it, but maybe they won’t.”

9:51 PM — Bron says to the fans of Cleveland “I feel awful that I’m leaving,” and he seems as genuine as he has all night.

9:56 PM – LeBron said it had nothing to do with money. This is a somber show. Jon Barry finally asks how long it’ll take Bron to disrobe Mario Chalmers of the number 6, and Bron cracks a smile.

10:00 PM — Bron actually mentions Joel Anthony having to be able to hit a big shot at the end of a game. Somewhere Joel Anthony just high-fived whoever is watching this with him.

10:02 PM — Now they’re asking LeBron questions from his Facebook page, which seems to me like a pretty good time for me log off.

Final thoughts: Orlando/Miami just became a bloodthirsty rivalry. Miami might get 82 games on national TV next season. But more than any of that, Bron, Wade and Bosh are an amazing trio, but Riley is going to have to pull a couple more magic tricks in order to get some other guys around The Three.

We’ll talk more about this…maybe forever? But I’m done. Thanks for hanging here. Keep it going in the comments. Does this make Miami the favorite to win the East? Are they even the favorite to win the Southeast Division?