NEW ORLEANS — They had good reason to party in the New Orleans Arena on Thursday night.
They were celebrating the least dramatic and most eagerly anticipated draft choice in New Orleans Hornets’ history.
The choice of former Kentucky forward Anthony Davis with the first pick in the NBA Draft had been a fait accompli since the Hornets won the lottery last month.
But the lack of drama didn’t prevent a large, enthusiastic flock of Hornets fans from showing up at the arena, which often had been lacking in excitement as New Orleans finished 21-45 last season in the first year of the post-Chris Paul era.
The impending arrival of Davis, who helped lead the Wildcats to the NCAA championship next door at the Superdome in April, led the Hornets to throw a draft party in the Arena for the first time since 2006.
Moments after the draft finally began, the ESPN broadcast on the arena’s overhead screen showed NBA Commissioner David Stern officially announcing that Davis was a Hornet.
The crowd stood and roared, and confetti dropped from the rafters, which hadn’t really been warranted since the team’s last playoff series victory, against Dallas in 2008.
Seldom had there ever been this much excitement and optimism about an athlete being drafted by a New Orleans sports franchise. The only other time a team from the Crescent City utilized the top overall pick was 1981 when the Saints drafted South Carolina running back George Rogers.
But it was the drafting of another running back, Reggie Bush of USC, with the second overall pick in 2006 that generated a bigger buzz, as did the selection of Texas running back Ricky Williams when Mike Ditka traded away his entire draft to get the fifth pick to take Williams in 1999.
Those selections fell short of the reaction that came in 1971 when the Saints selected Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning with the second overall pick.
New Orleans’ relatively short time as an NBA city hasn’t yielded a draft pick comparable to Davis; Paul’s selection at No. 4 in 2005 came closest.
Before Thursday, the most significant player acquisition by a New Orleans NBA franchise came in 1974 when the expansion Jazz made a trade to acquire former LSU star Pistol Pete Maravich from the Atlanta Hawks.
Maravich’s No. 7 jersey hangs from the rafters in the New Orleans Arena.
In its shadow down on the floor they were already selling Anthony Davis jerseys when the Hornets went back on the clock with pick No. 10.
As soon as Detroit used the No. 9 pick on Connecticut center Andre Drummond, some fans started chanting “Aus-tin, Aus-tin” in anticipation of New Orleans picking Duke guard Austin Rivers.
When the Hornets took the son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers minutes later, the crowd reacted almost as enthusiastically as it had for Davis.
The party was, and is, just beginning.