LOS ANGELES (AP) — Thousands of fans poured into the Coliseum early Wednesday to celebrate the Los Angeles Lakers' 15th NBA title with a parade and rally that the financially troubled city either badly needs or can't afford, depending on who you ask.
Kobe Bryant, other players from the storied franchise and coach Phil Jackson will take a route that begins at Staples Center and winds up at the Coliseum 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.
Some fans waited through the night and by dawn Wednesday so many were spilling into the streets that the Coliseum's outer gates were opened to accommodate them some six hours before the rally was scheduled to begin. Traffic was backed up on streets around the stadium, and there was a significant presence of police cars.
Private donors stepped up to ease most of the city's 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.