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Fans, police pleased after Lakers victory

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 17, 2001

LOS ANGELES -- A visibly tired Shaquille O'Neal and a relaxed Kobe Bryant lumbered off a chartered flight Saturday afternoon to the cheers of a few dozen fans and relatives in a warm homecoming to mark the Lakers second straight NBA championship.

"It's just great to come home," Bryant said after holding up the championship trophy for news cameras and getting a kiss and bouquet from his wife, Vanessa Laine.

The team returned from Philadelphia after winning three straight games there from the 76ers, including a 108-96 victory Friday night that clinched the title.

Amid tight security, the plane landed on a seldom-used runway at Los Angeles International Airport. Most team members headed directly for their cars in a nearby parking lot after waving to the 40 screaming fans gathered behind a nearby fence.

Laker Rick Fox said he was still savoring the victory.

"It will sink in Monday," Fisher said.

A downtown victory parade is planned Monday.

O'Neal explained why he appeared stoic and emotionless when the final buzzer sounded.

"I think I'm happy," O'Neal said. "It may not seem like I'm happy on my face, but I'm also greedy. And I'm not done.

"Somebody told me that we made history. We have the best record in winning a championship. So that's another thing I can tell my sons: The Big Historian."

Police said they made several arrests on misdemeanor charges after the Lakers clinched the championship, but declined to give specifics until a full report is issued Tuesday.

Police on foot, horseback, motorcycles and bicycles made sure there was no repeat of last year's melee, spurred by the team's victory over the Indiana Pacers.

"It was a very good evening," Los Angeles police Lt. Horace Frank said Friday night.

When several fans set small fires in the street in front of Staples Center, police swarmed in to stop them. A few fans threw rocks and bottles at officers, who responded by firing rubber bullets.

No property damage was reported.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson and Bryant recorded public service announcements that aired during the final minutes of the game urging fans to celebrate responsibly.

QUESTIONS FOR 76ERS: Philadelphia has questions surrounding coach Larry Brown, team president Pat Croce and All-Star center Dikembe Mutombo.

Brown is considering retirement, but indicated Saturday he might be leaning toward a return.

"I won't be coaching anywhere else next season," Brown said. "When you ask so much from the team, it's hard to turn your back on these guys. I just need to rejuvenate. I'm whipped. I'll talk to my family and make a decision soon."

Mutombo, acquired at the trade deadline, is a free agent. But he wants to remain with the Sixers, and likely will receive a lucrative three- or four-year deal, especially since the Sixers traded away budding star Theo Ratliff to get him.

"I know I'm going to be back here," said Mutombo, who with his wife will start looking at schools for their children and for a house.

Croce, who turned the Sixers from laughingstocks to Eastern Conference champions in five years, doesn't have a contract for next year. But he opened discussions with chairman Ed Snider early in the playoffs.

Aaron McKie, the sixth man of the year, also is a free agent. He said he wants to return. Forward Tyrone Hill, 33, said he would opt out of the final two years of his contract but wants to return with a four-year deal worth about $7-million a season. QUOTABLE: "I'm drunk," O'Neal's first words upon entering the post-game interview room after Friday's victory.

UNQUOTABLE: Sixers star Allen Iverson left the arena Friday night without commenting. For a five-game series, Iverson set records for average points (35.6), points (178), field goals attempted (162, 32.4 a game), field goals made (66), three-pointers made (11) and three-pointers attempted (39).

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