Anticipation. In a word, that was the feeling that hovered like a storm cloud on F Street outside MCI Center, where eager fans waited yesterday for the big show to begin and hoped to glimpse their favorite NBA star-to-be arriving for the 1999 draft.
For Hiram Augustt, there were just two words: "Steve Francis," intoned the smiling 14-year-old, standing on F Street NW near the pulsating NBA Jam Van with his friend Paul Tommy, 14.
"He's like, so amazing," Tommy said of the University of Maryland guard, who wound up being chosen second overall in the draft by the Vancouver Grizzlies, and whose picture -- in super-dunk mode -- loomed larger than life on the side of a building nearby.
The two boys were intent on sticking around, even though they did not have tickets to get inside. In fact, there wasn't a ticket to be found. At least not at MCI Center, where the signs on the doors read: "The NBA Draft is sold out."
But there were still the NBA Jam Van -- with gadgets, a seven-foot basket for shorter dunkers, and non-stop thumping bass pouring from speakers -- the Washington Wizards cheerleaders and the hope of catching a star. Techno music filled the air. Basketballs bounced off the pavement, and baskets shook under the force of one rim-rattling dunk after another.
Several baskets stood in the middle of F Street between Sixth and Seventh streets, which police had blocked off. And people milled about, some not knowing exactly what or who they were looking for, but intrigued by possibility.
"We wanted to see what was going on," said Courtney Griffith, 28. She and a co-worker, Regina Sawyer, 27, found their way to F Street on a midafternoon break from work at a nearby office. "This is the first time the draft is being held in D.C., and I wanted to see what was going on."
Once the draft started, the word was "electric."
Inside the arena, men and women wearing their Sunday best milled about in the halls, exchanging glances, everyone trying to be seen, scanning the eyes and the apparel for status, for cell phones, GQ poses, the look.
It seemed like a grand ball on the one hand, with men in expensive suits and leggy women in revealing dresses. There was glitz, gold and glory.
It also felt like a basketball game. At the concession stands, beer was poured, and nachos, cheese and pizza were served.
But most of the attention centered on the game floor. Fans crowded the stands, and draft picks strolled onto the stage in suits and caps.
". . . The Washington Wizards select Richard Hamilton," a voice blared across the stadium.
The crowd erupted.
Sekenia Welch, 23, and Duane Bryant, 22, were among a group of friends from James Madison University who plopped down $8 apiece for tickets to the draft, which started on a bad note for Bryant.
"I'm a die-hard Bulls fan," said Bryant, who had hoped Francis would be selected by the Chicago team. "I have no idea why they picked [Elton] Brand first."
His friend laughed. "I hate the Bulls," Welch said. "I love the [Brand] pick."
Despite his disappointment, Bryant was glad to be at the draft. "Just the atmosphere," he said. "Just being able to see everything unfold in front of us."
One group of bare-chested University of Maryland fans turned out to support Laron Profit, a guard/forward. Each wore a red, yellow or black-painted letter on his chest to spell out the words "Net Profit."
"Laron's the man," said Michael Hadley, 20.
Hadley's friend, Mark Fleming, 20, chimed in. "He's got to go in the first round," Fleming insisted, although Profit was later chosen in the second round by Orlando. "I had a class with him. He doesn't know who I am."
Brendan Severo, 26, was part of the afternoon crowd. He had caught the Metro from Sterling and brought along a camera, a Wizards media guide and a wish list that included hopes of landing Rod Strickland's John Hancock. His other wish was for the Wizards. "I'm a Wizards fan, hoping they can get a player to turn this franchise around," Severo said without a hint of a smile.
By 3 p.m., scores of fans, mostly young men and not-so-young men, had dunked on the basketball rims or launched missiles in a three-point contest that left many amateur hoopsters hanging their heads in shame. Many young women flocked to a table where a handsome young star signed autographed pictures.
"That's Car-lot-ta," Carlotta Dunkley, 18, told the young man, who turned out to be not a basketball star but WPGC-FM deejay Adimu Colon.
Hours later, Sugar Ray Leonard Productions and WPGC radio sponsored a fete at the 2K9 Club, 2009 Eighth St. NW. The former boxer himself was to serve as host, according to a club employee. And star Allen Iverson held a birthday bash at Nation, a club at 1015 Half St. SE. The party was open to anyone willing to pay $25, or $50 for VIP tickets.
CAPTION: Rick Hall, left, Dante Hall (no relation) and Eric Tyra react to a selection by the Washington Wizards while they watch the NBA draft on television at The Rock Sports Bar in Washington. The draft, at MCI Center, was sold out.