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LAKERS

Lakers, fans have a party

Approximately a quarter of a million come to celebrate the NBA championship.

June 18, 2009|Carla Hall and Ari B. Bloomekatz

Richard Curry can tell you exactly why he was standing in the middle of a crowded Figueroa Street outside Staples Center, wearing a shiny purple Lakers jersey with a plastic Lakers medallion dangling around his neck.

"I was down here in 2000 and 2001," he said of the gatherings to celebrate earlier Lakers championships. "I missed the 2002 parade, thinking 'Oh, they'll be back next year.' I had to wait another seven years to come back down here."

The 46-year-old building engineer smiled: "And here I am."

He was joined Wednesday morning by nearly 250,000 other celebrants, according to police estimates. They lined Figueroa and packed the Coliseum -- a wandering, cheering, picture-taking mass of Lakers fans all belying the notion that Los Angeles doesn't come together to celebrate anything.

From the Westside and East L.A., from Victorville and Vegas, and from just down the street, people came to catch a glimpse of the team parading from Staples Center to the Coliseum to celebrate its 10th NBA championship since moving to Los Angeles.

"We thought, well, let's cruise on down, this is our neighborhood," said Shannon Vasquez, who lives downtown, looking at her English bulldog, Bridget Jones, who was resting and panting in the street. Figueroa was cleared of traffic for miles. The day and the streets between downtown and the Coliseum belonged to revelers doing something as rare in Los Angeles as gathering together: walking.

Fifteen people were arrested and two officers suffered minor injuries, police said. Outside the east end of the Coliseum, fans breached a security barrier and climbed onto a ticket booth. When officers on foot could not disperse them, a mounted unit was brought in. Fans threw bottles at the mounted officers, prompting police to use less-than-lethal beanbag shots to quell the disturbance.

"We had knuckleheads in several areas," said Chief William J. Bratton, adding that "generally, it went very smoothly."

In the past, the Lakers had paraded from City Hall to Staples, but this year, officials decided the Coliseum was a more crowd-suitable destination.

"The Coliseum is a lot bigger than the Staples Center," said LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith. "The last time we used the Staples Center, L.A. Live wasn't there," he said referring to the adjacent entertainment complex. "There were parking lots."

The area "doesn't have the space anymore to cope with the crowds," he said.

Mostly, fans celebrated calmly, waiting hours for the parade and the rally to begin. Nicole Ebrahimi searched for a bathroom. "I'm 6 1/2 months pregnant," she said. "We'll see if it's worth all the trouble."

Outside Staples, fans hoisted cameras and children in the air as double-decker buses, laden with Lakers players and their entourages, finally passed by. Pau Gasol blew kisses to the fans. Some team members trained their own cameras on the crowd to capture their side of the moment.

Jeannette Hernandez, 18, and her friends took three trains from Pico Rivera for a momentary sighting of the Lakers. It was worth it, because team member Shannon Brown winked at her from the bus, she swears.

Before the Coliseum rally began, USC football Coach Pete Carroll walked out in the center of the field.

"There's probably no other way you can think of . . . to have this many people come together to have fun," said the man who is accustomed to big Coliseum crowds. "This is a great indication of the power of sports."

Even the Lakers appeared dazed by the euphoria of the fans. "I started where you all are," L.A. native and former UCLA star Jordan Farmar, looking like a wide-eyed kid, told the crowd.

Fans descended on the Coliseum so early, in such huge numbers, that police turned away people two hours before the rally there even started. Drew Thomas, 41, of West Hills, brought his three sons to the Coliseum and parked at 10:45 a.m. They were turned away. Later, his children in tow, he sighed. "Sometimes you've got to teach them about the spectacle of things," he said.

Bernie Jimenez, 29, left San Bernardino at 6 a.m. with his sister and a group of friends. They too were turned away. So they decided to look for a spot on the parade route.

"Hopefully they don't do no riots, we've got a long way to go home," he said.

However, it appeared to be one of those times when almost everybody was in "accord for one day," marveled Curry. "You see a lot of different ages and races and we're all kind of getting along. It's Rodney King's dream -- 'Can we all get along?' "

It was a multi-generational group. Along the parade route there were brawny men in Lakers jerseys escorting tiny children in matching garb.

Randy McDowell, who works for a grocery store chain and lives in Victorville, watched as his 3-year-old son, Blake, licked a melting ice cream bar outside Staples.

"I've been a Lakers fan since I was kid. Just keeping the generations going," he said. "I wanted to name him Kobe, but his mama wouldn't let me."

Laura Watson, 62, a technical librarian who works at Honda in Torrance, was dragged to the parade, her first despite being a lifetime Lakers fan, by her grandkids.

Referring to the economic woes of the day, the Carson resident said the people of L.A. needed the parade to get "their minds off their troubles for a minute, even though they'll still be there when they get back."

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Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein, Richard Winton and Gale Holland contributed to this report.

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carla.hall@latimes.com

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

250,000

Fans who lined the parade route and were in and around the Coliseum, according to city officials.

15

Number of arrests. "We had knuckleheads in several areas," said LAPD Chief William J. Bratton.

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