I love a parade.
On a morning so sweet you could almost drink it -- indeed, on a day in danger of fermenting -- the Lakers poured down Figueroa Street on Wednesday, surrounded by fans seduced by two months of torment, chutzpah and miracle finishes.
"Kobe!" they screamed, as if a savior had arrived.
They came by car. They came by train. They watched from rooftops and atop bus-stop shelters. In a lousy economy, they ditched work. A town in desperate need of a happy ending soaked this one up like so much Staples Center mustard.
"I've had this day planned in my head since last season," says Ken Matsuoka of Gardena. "Ever since the Celtics loss."
"I won a lot of money on the Finals," says Tony Pariani of San Diego, a professional gambler.
"MVP! MVP!" shouts the crowd when Kobe's face lights up a big screen.
For a few perfect hours Wednesday, Los Angeles celebrated Mardi Gras. Air horns fractured the air. At the corner of Fig and 11th, a crowd 40 deep watched the big screen at L.A. Live. Fans held up "KOBE DIEM" signs.
Looking back, we wonder why we ever worried.
The Lakers have the best coach in all of sports and Kobe Bryant, the vainglorious shooting guard who could pluck daisies off the moon. The toothy assassin plays basketball like a character out of a Cervantes novel. For the moment, the world is Kobe's man cave.
"Kobeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee," they scream, as if on fire.
"This is the back of Staples Center," a fan explains to a friend. "That's the front."
Indeed, many of these folks had never entered the dark, hallowed halls of Staples Center. Many had never seen their heroes in the flesh. But there was little doubt this was their team.
Seems like only yesterday their star diagnosed these Lakers as bipolar and said they didn't really try hard enough. The fans suspected as much. They nodded in agreement and admitted their team didn't always show much heart.
Yet, since the fourth quarter of the next-to-last Denver game, the Lakers played mostly exquisite basketball. And how much heart was there in those Fisher Swishers?
On Wednesday, you could measure it by the crowds that ran like trophy metal, from Staples to the Coliseum.
Gentle crowds, they were, at least by Los Angeles standards. There were beer bottles rolling around the floors of MTA buses but little drinking in evidence along the parade route.
"I was scared at the last parade, had my kid with me," a bystander says. "But this one is pretty mellow."
Little mini-dramas played out. At 10:58, minutes before the parade was scheduled to start, a dozen dunderheads climbed the bus shelter for a better look. At 11, police chased the dunderheads down. Five minutes later, more dunderheads climbed up. Five minutes later, police chased them back down.
Warm in the sun, ideal in the shade. Rock bands. Laker Girls. The faint smell of pot.
Maybe that's why they were so mellow. More likely, they were just glad to be there, on a day when the whole city seemed to be playing hooky and making jokes.
When Kobe boards the double-decker bus with his wife -- she in that gold Little Mermaid dress -- loudmouths playfully mimic the conversation.
"OK, Vanessa, where do you want me to sit? Is here good, Vanessa? Are you comfortable, Vanessa?"
Oh, what a season.
You know what stands out about this team? Oddly, the way the players ran and defended the inbounds play. Lost in the fuss over Derek Fisher's three-point shot-gasm was the way they zipped the ball up the court to set it up -- all quick passes -- half Magic trick, half allegory.
An inbounds play tells you a lot about a team: coaching, foot speed, court sense, moxie.
You know what else I'll remember? My son, age 6, leaning on his elbows each morning and devouring the sports pages as if studying a love note, punching playfully at the photos, grinning back at Lamar. Smiles for breakfast.
Lord, we can always use a happy ending around here, and at last we've found one in these improbable Lakers.
The parade is about over now. The helicopters have moved on. The air horns are fading. The vendor selling "black mambo" incense works the stragglers, offering his souvenirs for a buck.
"That's all, a buck?" says a customer as he pulls out his wallet.
You know, we're going to miss the Lakers during the NBA's five-week hiatus. Now what's to become of our Sundays? What will we plan our dinners around?
I'll confess that I've had so much basketball that my skin is orange and pebbled and my back end has Oscar Robertson scribbled across it.
So it's time to move on with life. To the Dodgers maybe. Perhaps the Angels too, who are on a bit of a tear themselves.
But before we leave these Lakers behind for good (or bad), note that there's no real reason to think the Dodgers shouldn't echo what just happened along Figueroa, to be followed in the winter by another parade for Pete Carroll's Trojans, giving our city a much-needed triple crown.
Titletown USA? Why not?
I love a parade.