The beauty of stuffing more than 1 million people into a city that on any other day holds 500,000 is that eventually they all blend together and the sight becomes a cluster of colorlessness.
Because they were packed shoulder to shoulder for blocks, the view wasn't of a black man and then a white man. It was of people wearing peacoats, knit caps, and mittens identifiable more by their collective emotions - bubbling eagerness, then teeming excitement - than their faces.
Somewhere in a crowd larger than the record 1.2 million that flooded the capital for Lyndon B. Johnson's inauguration 44 years ago were Celtics guard Ray Allen, managing partner Steve Pagliuca, and strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo.
Allen and Pagliuca realized two weeks ago that they were heading to Washington to see President Obama's inauguration.
Pagliuca is a longtime Obama supporter who fancies himself a student of history. He is the type to give friends history books as gifts.
For almost a year, Allen has been trying to work this inauguration into his plans and couldn't help seeing the stars align.
The day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a successful white man and a successful black man traveled together to Washington to see the nation swear in its first black president.
"Basketball has grown to such a level, but never will it ever compare to the impact that our government has on the whole world, and our president," Allen said yesterday.
Pagliuca said he and Allen arrived in Washington at about 2:30 a.m. yesterday. After a 6:30 wake-up call, they departed for the inauguration. In fact, after defeating the Suns Monday night at TD Banknorth Garden, the Celtics voted to take an early flight to Miami to watch Obama's speech on television.
"When you have the legacy of Red Auerbach, who was a pioneer in civil rights, it gives the Celtics a connection with a historic day like this," Pagliuca said.
Their private car could only get them about 17-18 blocks, so Allen and Pagliuca walked the rest of the way. Pagliuca had a seat next to Allen, about 20 yards from where Obama took the presidential oath. Pagliuca said he and Allen got a little emotional when Aretha Franklin sang, and both truly enjoyed the experience.
"Ray is a very cerebral basketball player and person with compassion for history," Pagliuca wrote in an e-mail yesterday. "Ray said that this showed that if someone is smart and works hard they can get to the highest office of the land.
"[Allen] was very happy to come down to the historic event. It was a fantastic experience. People will look at this event the same way they did when Martin Luther King said his 'I have a dream' speech over 40 years ago."
The temperature was frigid. The crowds were enormous. The day was long. But even before leaving, Pagliuca said the day would be immeasurable.
"This feels like kind of a culmination," Pagliuca said Monday. "We desperately need some new leadership in the country. We have a tough economic situation. We've got the war in Iraq going on and Obama has a lot of issues to face, but he's a very, very smart guy."
But the symbolism of celebrities and strangers, black people, white people, all people uniting meant more.
"The American people want to be held in high esteem around the world," said Allen, who hopped on an afternoon flight to Miami to join his teammates for tonight's game against the Heat. "They want America to get back to the days when we held our heads high around the world. As soon as I got down there, I was like, 'Wow. We're back.' Not necessarily world dominance, but world acceptance."
Marc J. Spears of the Globe staff contributed and material from the Associated Press was used in this report; Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.