Nice right up man.
1/2"-1" slop while in gear is not normal. My car and many others I have dealt with don't have that much slop if any. The stock shift knob, does suck however.
Gear noise? You shouldn't have expected any as the BMW has an external linkage assembly unlike the IS300 you are used to which the shifter resides directly in the transmission. The only time the IS300's would eliminate that was with the V160 swap (and as you know, that's not common) So yes, on a car like that, there will be syncro whine and noise through the shifter.
Great write up though as always.
What clutch did you end up going with?