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Lakers fans enjoy victory celebration

June 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Tens of thousands of jubilant Los Angeles Lakers fans flooded downtown Wednesday, creating a tidal wave of purple and gold while celebrating 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 parade route from Staples Center to the packed Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where players were greeted with a thunderous ovation and showered with purple and gold confetti.

"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.

At the Coliseum, which holds 95,000 people, star Kobe Bryant said he was anxious to win even more titles.

"Now here we are, back on top, so it just feels unbelievable," Bryant said, grinning broadly.

Fisher and coach Phil Jackson also spoke after the Laker Girls danced and the players body-bumped and high-fived on a hardwood floor brought from Staples Center, the team's home court.

Bryant led the crowd in a championship chant that he said he and his teammates shouted before, during and after every game this season.

"I want everybody to say 'ring' on three: One two three ... " he shouted.

Crowds at the stadium and along the parade route were rambunctious but mostly well-mannered, in contrast to the melee that broke out downtown after the Lakers clinched the championship in Florida. Eighteen people were arrested.

Police said there were only five arrests on Wednesday. They had no immediate details, but one rowdy celebrant was seen being led 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 crowd.

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," Bryant said as he prepared to board one of the parade buses. "You can just feel the energy in the city."

Letitcia Gutierrez watched the procession while she was squeezed against a chain-link fence separating fans from the double-decker buses carrying the players.

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

Bryant had teamed with center Shaquille O'Neal to lead the Lakers to those three other championships before a dry spell set in after O'Neal was traded in 2004. It ended this year, with Bryant, now 30, clearly the leader of this team.

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 joined the team and the owners of Staples Center in an unusual move to underwrite most of the cost. It was the first of at the four Laker victory parades this decade to be privately funded.

People began waiting at the Coliseum and along the parade route on Tuesday night. The stadium was filled hours before the parade began.

Among those inside for the rally was USC football coach Pete Carroll, who has seen his own moments of glory on the stadium football field.

"I'm having a blast," he said.

Walter Contreras was one of the thousands of people who arrived too late to get into the Coliseum. No matter. 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?"

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