The athlete was Julius Erving, not Mean Joe Greene, and a snapshot was desired, not a jersey, but still, the scenario definitely belonged on television.

Dr. J stands at center court of Georgetown's McDonough Arena. The little kid hesitantly approaches his idol for a picture. But the idol has a better idea: give the camera to man standing close by and let kid get in picture. Finishing touch: idol puts arm around kid.

Ten minutes earlier, Dr. J had christened the launching of the 16th annual United States Youth Games, tossing the opening tap between centers from Washington and Columbia, S.C. Ten minutes later he would disappear.

Clark Kent could not have managed it better.

The superteam on this first day of these games was the hometowners. A slick 69-43 defeat of Columbia indicated last year's seventh-place finish did not wear too well on the team. Follow that with a 60-38 jaunt over Paterson, N.J., and you've got awesome. Right, coach?

"I'll tell you tomorrow. That's when we play Baltimore (11 a.m.)," said Oscar Phillips, in his fourth straight year as Washington coach. "That's when I'll know just how good we are."

Twelve cities have paraded their finest 9- to 15-year-old athletes into town. At 76 players per team, that's a mini-Olympics to say the least. Basketball and tennis were the only events held yesterday. Runners, swimmers, and bowlers will get down to business today.

Several kids were walking around with stereos that concealed their athletic physiques and faces. Most of the others could be found in the video game room of Yates Field House. Then, of course, cheerleading was a prime activity.

To call it hectic would be to say that 14- and 15-year-olds can play a good game of basketball.

When Paterson players dunked, and dunked some more in warmups, two technical foul shots were awarded to Washington.

Running a fast break, Michael Sampson faked three opposing players before feeding 6-foot-9 Danny Ferry for an easy two.

Washington's Donna Harrington, standing about 6-1, does a slip and tuck move with the ball and deposits it, a la Marques Johnson, through the hoop. It is eye-rubbing time for those watching.

These kids can play basketball.

"There's no bigger treat for a kid than playing in the Youth Games," said Alonzo (Cheese) Hollaway, a referee now, but a member of Washington's victorious 1969 team. "We had Eddie Jordan and Adrian Dantley, so it was a pretty good team. The games were played at Howard that year, though."

In tennis action, District residents Thomas Calhoun and Sean Robinson each won two matches without losing a set.

But those are on the side stage--away from Dr. J, away from the most mishandled stall ever performed by a team (the Baltimore girls in closing out a victory over Worcester, Mass.), and away from the actual stage at one end of historic McDonough Arena.