Full House Welcomes Lakers

Lakers fans rally for NBA champions

More than 90,000 people welcomed the Los Angeles Lakers to the Coliseum Wednesday for a giant party.

The crowd gathered before dawn Wednesday morning at the Coliseum.

Thousands of fans rushed in when the stadium gates were opened hours earlier than planned. Others pried open an iron gate.

Gates were scheduled to open at 9 a.m.

Officials with the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum said it was full at about 10 a.m. Anyone else who wants to join the festivities should line the parade route along Figueroa Street.

Viewer Images: Send Us Your Lakers Celebration Pictures

Many streets will be affected in a large area generally bounded by Martin Luther King Boulevard, Jefferson Boulevard, Hoover Street, Union Avenue, Ninth Street and Broadway, according to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

Kobe Bryant, other players from the storied franchise and Coach Phil Jackson took a route that began at Staples Center and led to the Coliseum for a rally, despite a week marked by complaints about the $2 million cost and worries about a repeat of the hooliganism that followed the team's Sunday night championship-clinching win over the Orlando Magic.

Private donors stepped up to ease most of the money concerns, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa defended the decision to stage the parade, saying it's important to celebrate even at a time of high unemployment and home foreclosures.

Villaraigosa said that some of the city's wealthiest power brokers, including billionaire developers Eli Broad and Ed Roski, have kicked in $850,000 of nearly $1 million in city costs. The Lakers and AEG, which owns Staples Center, are paying for another $1 million in production costs.

"We intend to do everything we can to minimize the cost to the city," the mayor said Tuesday. "If we hadn't had a parade, you'd have a whole other bevy of people criticizing the city."

The mayor and other officials sought donations after critics blasted the idea of using city money when Los Angeles is considering layoffs to close a half-billion-dollar budget gap.

Villaraigosa said the Lakers generate an annual economic benefit of about $150 million to the city, and claimed the parade will generate an estimated $15 million more.

Lakers guard Derek Fisher joined the mayor and Police Chief William Bratton pleading for paradegoers to behave responsibly in the wake of Sunday's looting and vandalism that has resulted in 18 arrests.

"We don't want to have one person or one small group of people to ruin this opportunity to have a great day," Fisher said Tuesday. "There's not going to be any tolerance for anybody who is trying to take away from the safety and the security."

Bratton said plainclothes and uniformed officers would be stationed in the crowd Wednesday.

"Anyone who wants to disrupt it and celebrate themselves rather than the Lakers, stay home," the chief said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us