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More than 100,000 turn out for Lakers parade

MORE than 100,000 joyous Lakers fans filled the streets of downtown Los Angeles and jammed the Memorial Coliseum yesterday for a parade marking the team's 15th NBA championship.

The Lakers beat the Orlando Magic 99-86 in Game Five of the NBA finals in Florida on Sunday to clinch the best-of-seven series and take the title for the first time since winning three in a row from 2000-02.

Wednesday's celebrations began at the team's Staples Center home and proceeded slowly along a two-mile route to the Coliseum.

The stadium was packed to its 93,000 capacity as the Lakers faithful made up a sea of purple and gold.

"We feel this championship. We feel the energy of the city," All-Star guard Kobe Bryant told the fans.

"We want to do this thing again and again so you know we'll be back next year ready to go."

Fan-favorite Bryant, the Most Valuable Player of the finals who could opt out of his contract and become a free agent, also drew a roar of approval by confirming he would return to the team.

"Where would I go?," he said with a broad smile. "This is my home."

Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who earned a record 10th title, thanked the fans for turning out in such numbers.

"We are humbled by your devotion and appreciation for us," he said.


On their way to the Coliseum party the Lakers passed through the streets of Los Angeles on purple and gold double-decker buses, escorted by police on motorcycles.

Workers in nearby office towers left their buildings for the celebration.

"We feel redeemed. We are champions at heart, regardless of who comes and goes on the team," said 36-year-old fan Richard Franco, who arrived on his bicycle.

Leaving work was "a worthwhile sacrifice" for the team, said lawyer Aaron Spiwak, 26, as he donned a Lakers warm-up jacket.

Police closed off streets around the stadium and said no more people would be allowed in, causing local media to voice concern the overflow crowd could get unruly.

Alcohol, bags, bottles, cans and weapons were banned from the Coliseum.

Police said several people were arrested before the party for throwing objects at officers and about 30 people were given tickets for stopping to take pictures on a nearby freeway.

There had been grumbling from employee unions and others that Los Angeles, which faces a deep budget deficit, should not be paying for the $2 million party.

The parade went ahead when the Lakers agreed to pick up roughly half the cost, with wealthy private donors agreeing to reimburse the city for much of the remainder.


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