Lakers Fans Celebrate Title

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Tens of thousands of jubilant Los Angeles Lakers fans flooded downtown Wednesday, creating a tidal wave of purple and gold as they celebrated the storied franchise's 15th NBA title with a high-energy parade and rally paid for by the city's movers and shakers.

People clad in the team colors stood 20 or more deep along the 2½-mile route from Staples Center, the team's home court, to the packed Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

A convoy of double-decker buses carrying players, coaches and the Laker Girls cheerleaders drew whoops and hollers along the route. Their arrival outside the 95,000-seat stadium brought a huge roar from those assembled for the rally.

"Thank you for all the support, baby. We love you. Let's go, Lakers," veteran guard Derek Fisher shouted to fans along the parade route.

Fisher all but ripped the heart out of the Orlando Magic with a pair of three-point shots that sealed a Game Four victory in the NBA Finals. The Lakers needed just one more game to clinch the championship on Sunday.

Letitcia Gutierrez watched the procession squeezed against a chain-link fence separating fans from the buses. She didn't mind the cramped quarters.

"It's a great thing to be a part of," she said. "We got passion and motivation. We're rowdy."

Police reported no arrests at the start of the parade, although officers were seen leading at least one rowdy celebrant out of the Coliseum in handcuffs before the team arrived.

Police Chief William J. Bratton said at least 1,700 officers, some in riot gear and others in plainclothes, kept watch on the amped but behaved crowd.

In the days before the parade, Fisher, Bratton and others pleaded with fans to remain well behaved and avoid a replay of the looting and vandalism Sunday night that led to 18 arrests.

The city held similar post-victory parades in 2000, 2001 and 2002 after the Lakers won championships, but the energy and size of the crowd didn't compare to this year.

"This is more special because we went through so many dark years," Lakers star Kobe Bryant said as he prepared to board one of the parade buses. "You can just feel the energy in the city."

Later, chants of "MVP" rocked the Coliseum as Bryant and his teammates descended steps into the stadium after the parade.

In the days before the event, much was made of its estimated $2 million cost, with critics complaining that a city a half-billion dollars in debt and facing layoffs could not afford the celebration.

But private donors stepped up at the 11th hour and in an unusual move underwrote most of the cost. It was the first of at the four Laker victory parades this decade to be privately funded.

Billionaire developers Eli Broad and Ed Roski were among several donors who kicked in $850,000, and the Lakers and AEG, a unit of the Anshutz Co. that owns Staples Center, paid $1 million in production costs.

People began camping out along the parade route on Tuesday night, with the majority clad in purple and gold jerseys, hats, sweat pants or shorts. Some even dyed their hair purple for the parade.

Albert de la Cruz pushed his baby in an antique baby carriage decorated with purple and gold suede and covered in Lakers logos.

Some fans waited through the night at the Coliseum, site of the 1932 and 1984 Olympics. The venue was filled hours before the parade began.

Walter Contreras was one of the thousands of people who arrived too late to get in. He decided to stand outside and see whatever he could.

"Come on, it's the Lakers," he said. "This is the heart of our city. Why would I ever want to miss this?"

The parade was the first such event since Shaquille O'Neal was
traded.

With the dry spell finally over, those in the crowd Wednesday
were already predicting another championship next year, many
shouting, "Back to back without Shaq."


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