Serenaded by the drone of hovering helicopters, Lakers fans thronged their championship team's parade on Monday and partied like it was 2009.
A crowd estimated by police at 65,000 to 70,000 lined Figueroa Street, screaming for Kobe, hoisting cameras and small children and matching the Lakers' repeat victory from last year with a repeat of their own gold- and purple-adorned revelry.
"Did you see him with the trophy? That's him! Kobe Bryant!" cried Kevin Tran, 35, after training his high-powered binoculars on the Lakers' NBA Finals MVP.
Bryant abandoned his four-ring hand display of last year in favor of grasping the gold trophy and shaking it for fans as the parade vehicles departed from Staples Center on their two-mile trek to USC. By the time they got to 23rd Street, Lakers guard Shannon Brown was patting the trophy while Bryant held his youngest daughter and waved Miss America-style to the crowd.
Some were parade first-timers; others had attended two (or more). Instead of being inured to the pageantry — the Lakers, after all, have won five of the last 11 NBA championships — they have turned it into a sacred Los Angeles ritual.
"I came last year, so I had to come this year," said Rebecca Castillo, 23, of Huntington Park. "Mandatory."
She attended with her husband, Anthony, 21, six months out of prison, and their two young daughters.
"This year, we're here as a family," Rebecca said.
"It feels better to win twice in a row," said Yadira Ayala, 17, who along with friend Patty Romero, juniors at Huntington Park High School, donned Kobe Bryant jerseys and skipped their first day of finals to attend the parade.
They basked not just in their team's victory but in a rare urban bonhomie that — according to these fans — surfaces in Los Angeles only at Lakers parade time. "Every race, creed, and color gets together," said Leemar Clark, 44, a lab technician at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. "People are talking to each other."
Indeed, it made for an unusual mix.
There was the businessman in crisp white shirt and tie, jacket-less, hands tucked into his pockets, grinning as he took in the scene. "I thought, 'You know, I've never done this,' " said Scott Weir, 51, a fervent Lakers fan who works in technology sales for Hewlett-Packard and had to be downtown for a meeting.
Krista Barry, 22, of Santa Maria got up at 4:30 a.m., put on her No. 24 Lakers jersey and drove in with her two friends for the parade.
"I just want to feel the Laker vibe," Barry said. "In 10 years we'll be too old — at least that's what my parents said."
Clearly, they don't know Grace Yamanika, 88, who came with her 91-year-old husband, Jiro, and their caregiver. Grace is scheduled to have open- heart surgery Tuesday. "We're probably the oldest people here," she said with a grin.
The couple couldn't see much from their position under a tree at the end of the parade route. But it was worth it, they said, to be part of the celebrating masses.
"I think it's great, that kind of spirit," Grace Yamanika said.
The preferred costume for this morning carnival was a mix of Laker gold and purple in shirts, shorts, body paint, and, of course, hair. Elaine Aguayo, 32, patted her outsized wig of gold and purple curls. "My new look," she said.
A short-order man grilled up bacon-wrapped hot dogs not far from a man with a giant placard of the Ten Commandments. Neither seemed to disrupt the flow of traffic on 11th Street.
There were seven arrests. The bigger concern for more people was the severe shortage of portable toilets, which left people wandering the streets in a desperate search, repeatedly asking police officers where the restrooms were and waiting in lines when they found them.
The city sent out 20 portable toilets at 5:30 a.m., said Richard Lee of the Department of Public Works. Another 20 were put out between 9:15 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. But that didn't seem to help Cristina Mendez, 20, who wandered Figueroa without finding one.
"FYI, they should really put some Porta-Potties out here next time," said the Grossmont College student.
The parade, scheduled to start at 11 a.m., didn't get rolling until 11:30. After the delay, it moved by quickly — just enough time for fans to cry out: "MVP!" or, in the case of Pepperdine student Kayla Brown, "Kobe, I love you!"
Unlike last year, Monday's parade did not culminate in a rally at the Coliseum, upsetting some fans.
"What an insult," said Sharon Dacosta, 38, a medical technician from South L.A. who was upset she had not been able to catch a glimpse of Bryant. "I barely saw anyone. You see more cop cars and firetrucks than players. People drove a long way. People took time off work."
But many didn't care.
"It's like that roller coaster ride," said Richard Curry, a building engineer at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. "You wait for an hour and a half for a 60-second ride, and it's the best ride of your life."
Times staff writers Esmeralda Bermudez, Robert Faturechi, Richard Winton, Andrew Blankstein, Abby Sewell, Jessica Garrison and Sam Allen contributed to this report.
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