All season long, through 100 regular-season and playoff basketball games, it had been the Magic show, and so it remained on Tuesday when tens of thousands of Los Angeles Laker fans squeezed together around City Hall to celebrate their National Basketball Assn. championship.
The man they chanted the hardest for--"Maaa- gic ! Maaa- gic !"--was Magic Johnson, not only the team's dominant player but its choreographer, and when it came time for someone to unleash the crowd into a roar of triumph, he was there.
Asked to say a few words, he sauntered toward the microphone, then past it. He threw both index fingers high in the air and, keeping his arms raised, slowly pranced down a few steps of City Hall, toward the adoring masses who continued to gratefully chant his name. Gracefully, he waved his arms to the right, then to the left, until everybody else picked up on it, and for a few moments Angelenos swayed together.
"All I want you to do," Johnson said jubilantly to the crowd after lowering it back to normal, "is like we've been doing--just party and have a good time."
And for a few hours, the Civic Center devoted itself to that pursuit, honoring the Lakers with a 10-block parade down Broadway and 1st Street and the traditional City Hall rally, all of it held in good spirits and without major incident.
Purple- and gold-clad fans celebrated amid hundreds of street vendors and souvenir hawkers who offered a dozen varieties of Laker T-shirts and caps for $10 to $12. Some enterprising T-shirt vendors traded on merchandise that specifically gloated over the Lakers' dominance of the Boston Celtics, the traditionally hated rival whom they beat Sunday to win their second world title in three years.
One shirt proclaimed "Celtic Busters." Another shouted an obscene reference to the Celtics that has become a popular chant at Laker-Celtic games played here.
Laker center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was as impressed with the diversity of the crowd as its spirit.
"I see all Los Angeles out here," he said when it was his turn to address the audience, bending over a podium that also held the gold NBA championship trophy. "I see folks from the Valley, folks from Koreatown, from Chinatown. I saw some people along the parade holding a sign that said 'Saludes . . . Campeones Mundiales, ' " a reference to a sign that said "Congratulations . . . World Champions" in Spanish.
"We're proud of what we did . . . you've been wonderful," the Laker captain and elder statesman said with a rare burst of public enthusiasm. "We're going to try to get this to happen again next year so we can make this an annual thing."
All 12 Laker players, each clad in white caps and T-shirts that celebrated their championship, turned out for the parade and rally.
Estimates of how many people turned out to cheer them and Coach Pat Riley along the parade route and at City Hall varied wildly, from 10,000 to 100,000.
Los Angeles police declined to make an estimate, deferring to a 15,000 estimate by the city Department of Transportation. However, it appeared that there were at least as many people present as in 1985, when the Lakers last celebrated a world championship with a crowd estimated by the Police Department at 30,000.
Later in the day, an estimated 14,000 people showed up for another rally at the Forum in Inglewood, where Inglewood city officials made a point of claiming the Lakers as their team.
The players again extended their gratitude. "It no secret that we Lakers and you fans have a mutual agreement," forward James Worthy said. "We do it for you and you do it for us."
Many of the Los Angeles spectators arrived downtown early. A handful camped overnight at City Hall and many were massing for the closest vantage point--separated from the team by lines of yellow 50-gallon trash barrels filled with water--four hours before the players were scheduled to appear.
Ray Carrasco came from Monterey Park to wave his four-foot-square homemade collage of Laker headlines and pictures. "I made it for my 3-year-old son, for his memories," he explained.
Samuel Hodge lugged a 10-foot wooden stepladder in from Pasadena and perched on top with a video camera. "I came here in '85 but I couldn't see," he said.
Personalized signs were everywhere and dripping heavily with puns.
"We Broke Auerbach's To Be Champs," read a painted bed sheet, referring to Celtic President Red Auerbach.
"Magic You're DesEARVIN' of the MVP," blared another in acknowledgement of Johnson's real name, which has become almost obscure.
"Bye-Bye Birdy," said a third, twitting Celtic star Larry Bird.
There was also a lone "Palestinians for Lakers" sign that showed up both at City Hall and the Forum.