The streets of downtown were transformed into a sea of purple and gold yesterday as tens of thousands of joyous Los Angeles Lakers fans joined their team in a raucous but mostly peaceful celebration of its 15th NBA championship.
Taking a timeout from work or unemployment, 95,000 people filled the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to give a hero's welcome to players and coaches, who were showered with purple and gold confetti as the Randy Newman song "I Love L.A." blared from loudspeakers.
Tens of thousands more fans lined a 2 1/2-mile parade route.
"Thank you for all the support, baby. We love you. Let's go, Lakers," veteran guard Derek Fisher, one of the heroes of the NBA Finals, shouted to fans along the route.
"We are humbled by your devotion and appreciation to us," said coach Phil Jackson, who thanked his girlfriend, Jeannie Buss, the daughter of team owner Jerry Buss, for talking him into returning as coach after he left the team for a year after the 2004 season.
"This is more special because we went through so many dark years," said Finals MVP Kobe Bryant, who has played on four Jackson-coached, title-winning Lakers teams.
"It's a great thing to be a part of," said Letitcia Gutierrez, who watched the parade while squeezed against a chain-link fence separating fans from the buses carrying the players.
Some in the crowd got a little too rowdy, including a group that was shut out of the celebration when the Coliseum filled to capacity. Dozens of people who tried to enter by climbing over a ticket booth were turned back by police on horseback and in riot gear. Some officers fired beanbags into the crowd.
In all, 15 people were arrested, police said. Several cases of heat exhaustion were the only injuries reported.
Police Chief William J. Bratton said at least 1,700 officers, some in plainclothes, kept watch on the crowd.
In the days before the event, much was made of its estimated $2 million cost, with critics complaining 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 to underwrite most of the cost.
* New Minnesota president of basketball operations David Kahn dumped Kevin McHale as coach, praising him as a "great man" who deserves respect. Kahn offerend no specific reasons for his decision.
"I was willing to come back, but they never offered me a contract," McHale said. *