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Stephen Curry holds court at Warriors championship parade

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OAKLAND – Call it The Annual.

The Warriors threw their yearly victory parade in Oakland Tuesday morning, a blue-and-yellow party Bay Area residents have come to expect every June.

A crowd estimated at more than 1 million people jammed downtown streets to cheer the best team in the NBA, a dynasty that has won three of the past four NBA Championships — and might have won four in a row had Stephen Curry not injured his knee two years ago.

This year, the Warriors beat the formidable Cleveland Cavaliers with the great LeBron James in the NBA Finals. Beat them four games to zero. A sweep. That followed a rousing series with the Houston Rockets, a series in which the Warriors faced elimination twice, including once on the road in Game 7, but they prevailed. Their biggest test yet. Championship No. 3 was the Warriors’ biggest accomplishment.

The entire city of Oakland paused Tuesday to enjoy the moment. Construction workers stood on the edges of unfinished floors in a half-built building at the corner of 11th and Jefferson, the starting point of the parade, and gazed as the Warriors entered buses and smoked cigars. Fans danced on top of bus stops, houses and apartments, staring at the floats passing by.

Santa Rosa residents Hannah Shin and Axel Mafra watched from the sidewalk at Broadway and 11th. Both Warriors fans drove to Oakland the morning of the parade. Shin arrived at 7:30 a.m.; Mafra at 5 a.m.

“I love the interactiveness of this,” said Mafra, who has been to all three Warriors parades. “The players are spending more time. Klay Thompson actually got out and was running around. I got to see him pop open a bottle of champagne.”

Shin preferred the format of the previous parades, which featured a rally at the end, where the Warriors addressed fans directly.

“I wish there was a rally,” Shin said, “because it makes it more fun for the fans.”

The Warriors canceled the post-parade rally this year and replaced it with a small, made-for-television pre-parade rally hosted by NBC Sports Bay Area. The Warriors invited roughly 100 fans, packed them into a small area in front of a stage and instructed them to “get loud” and “go crazy” during the broadcast.

Noticeably absent from the made-for-TV event was Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who spoke during the Warriors’ rally last year. Mayors typically speak at championship sports rallies, but the team did not invite Schaaf to speak this year.

“It’s a little bit different today; we don’t have any politicians,” Warriors play-by-play announcer Bob Fitzgerald said emphatically on stage as he waved his left hand to the side, metaphorically brushing off Schaaf and her colleagues in City Hall.

Tensions seem to exist between Schaaf and the Warriors. Last year, the Warriors agreed to pay for the parade, and then the bill came to $787,000 — more than three times greater than the city’s initial estimate. Canceling the post-parade rally may have been a way to lower costs for the Warriors.

Even though Schaaf didn’t speak, she showed up to the parade driving a wrought-iron, fire-breathing snail mobile, with legendary Oakland rapper MC Hammer standing on top of it.

At NBC’s on-site studio, Curry spoke directly to the dozens of fans in front him, and many, many more watching from home: “Never really imagined that we would be having one parade, let alone two, and now three. We’re going to try to get greedy and go get some more.”

When Curry finished, the team took turns filing into double-decker buses with family and friends. The players and coaches stood on top of the buses, so they could see the fans on the street and wave to them.

When the motorcade turned left on Broadway, the fans began to chant, “Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!” Warriors backup guard Nick Young stood on his bus while smoking a cigar. He wore a black bathrobe, black shorts, black sunglasses, no shirt and three gold chains. He leaped off the bus and ran onto the street, hugged fans in the crowd, then jumped onto the back of a moving golf cart and rode the rest of the parade from there.

Thompson stood on his bus while holding a bullhorn. He wore frog-eyed sunglasses, took occasional swigs from a bottle of Hennessy and blew kisses to the crowd. He was in love with life.

And life was in love with him. Every few blocks, a different woman would see him, point, scream and ask him to marry her. Each time, he would point back, nod and yell something to her through the bullhorn. And the motorcade would drive on.

Curry stood in a separate bus. He didn’t drink or hold a bullhorn. He held the Larry O’Brien trophy, given to the NBA champions, displaying it for the crowd to see.

As Curry held the trophy over his head, his bus stopped and let the other buses carrying players pass by. They were side acts. He was the center of the action. And this was the high-point of the day.

For most teams, the coach or the owner holds the trophy. Not the Warriors. Steve Kerr, who took over in 2014, is a very good head coach — he won a championship his rookie year. But Curry is the face of the franchise (no offense to Kevin Durant). Before Curry came to Oakland in 2009 and became a two-time league MVP, there was no yearly parade.

He created The Annual. He created the best party in town.