BOSTON (AP) — Through a haze of his own cigar smoke, Paul Pierce peered through sleepless eyes at the sea of green-clad fans and thrust his golden MVP trophy skyward.
His day had finally arrived. A day to ride in his own championship parade. A day that gave normal people a chance to wave signs, paint their faces in Celtics colors and scream their hearts out for the latest team to bring a title to town.
"We're tired of watching these parades on TV. Now we get to enjoy our own," Pierce said after a fantastic season that followed nine frustrating ones in his Boston career. "I haven't had any sleep yet, so now I'm still enjoying it."
The Celtics earned Thursday's "rolling rally" celebration with an amazing comeback season topped off by a stunningly dominant 131-92 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night in Game 6 of the NBA finals. Pierce was the series MVP.
It was the Celtics' first title without Red Auerbach, the team patriarch who died in October 2006 after being part of the other 16 championships, nine as coach. The cigars smoked by players and fans were a tribute to Auerbach's custom of lighting one up on the bench in the waning moments of still another win.
"We wish he could be here," Pierce said before he lit his cigar on his duck boat, "so I'm doing this to honor him."
Players rode in the amphibious tourist vehicles like those used by soldiers in World War II. They also transported the New England Patriots after their Super Bowl championships in February of 2002, 2004 and 2005 and the Boston Red Sox after their World Series victories in October 2004 and 2007.
Now it was time for Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and their teammates to travel a nearly two-mile route from TD Banknorth Garden, the arena where the title was won in the team's 108th game of a grueling season — 82 of them wins — to Copley Plaza near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
"We've seen plenty of people go through their championship parades," Allen said, "and never did I think I would be a part of one. It's great to definitely do it here in Boston."
Police reported 21 arrests, mostly for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. But fans had one last chance to enjoy the team's first title in 22 years and the area's sixth in 6 1/2 years
"Who would have ever thought? Boston. Title town," said Ryan Stillman, 21, who was born five months after Boston won its last championship on June 8, 1986.
Boston went 66-16 one season after going 24-58, the second worst record in the league.
The mastermind was general manager Danny Ainge, who traded for Garnett and Allen. The field general was coach Doc Rivers. Both let the players absorb the glory.
"As an executive," Ainge said before the rally, "these guys are like my kids."
All along the route, fans held signs declaring "Sweet 17," the number of Celtics championships, and "Have a Cigar."
Nick D'Ambrosia, a pennant vendor from Hamden, Conn., said when the team won Game 4 in Los Angeles, he bought a batch of $7 pennants to hopefully sell at a Boston victory parade.
"It's better when they haven't won in a long time. Everyone loves a new winner," he said.
Michael Shaughnessy skipped work to bring his 4-year-old grandson Gavin Carter, a big Garnett fan.
"I like that he gets all the shots and he dunks," Gavin said, tugging at his own miniature No. 5 jersey while Garnett himself carried the championship trophy on his duck boat.
At the start of the rally, construction workers across Causeway Street from the Garden looked down from openings in a building where windows will go. Other onlookers stood on fire escapes. Confetti cannons shot green and white paper into the air as workers stood by with brooms ready to clear them away once the parade passed.
As the duck boats pulled out of the parking lot, Bob Messina watched in his powder blue Larry Bird No. 33 Indiana State jersey. Now 37, Messina remembers the 1986 celebration at City Hall Plaza.
"I just remember Larry Bird and his curly blond hair," he said. "I'll never forget it as long as I live. To be here now that I'm a little bit older, I could die a happy man."
Thursday's rolling rally didn't make any stops, but fans saw Pierce, Garnett, James Posey, Leon Powe and Sam Cassell chomping on stogies. And they saw 289-pound rookie Glen "Big Baby" Davis travel along the route topless, showing that not all his baby fat was gone.
Meredith Heijl, 20-year-old student from Boston was so excited to see them pass, she broke her green flip flop trying to take Pierce's picture.
"That was the highlight of my year," she joked, even though he didn't wave in her direction.
Many adults at the parade were struck by the youth of the crowd.
"I think the Celtics have a new following that's more the early 20s crowd," said Alan Sprinsky, 55, of Braintree, who surveyed the scene from a lawn chair in front of the St. Paul's Cathedral on Tremont Street. "I bet there's not too many kids in school today."
The weather helped the turnout that was 20 to 30 people deep at spots. The Red Sox celebrated in November and the Patriots in February, but the Celtics parade took place under sunny, late-spring skies that allowed the crowd to leave the winter coats at home and come out in shorts and T-shirts.
Before the rally, Celtics managing partner Irv Grousbeck unfurled a 2008 championship banner, a replica of the one that will hang from the rafters. "The first of several, we hope," he said in a Garden hallway. Rivers commissioned the new banners for owners and players.
Co-owner Wyc Grousbeck, Irv's son, got a congratulatory call from President Bush on Wednesday. On Thursday, the younger Grousbeck thanked fans.
"I would say you guys made it happen," he said. "There was no way the Lakers could win when they stepped on the floor in Game 6 with the electricity in the building. I know who won the game, and it was actually the fans."
And a bunch of cigar-puffing, trophy-toting athletes who took one last journey together before a new banner is hung next to the other 16.
Associated Press Writers Glen Johnson and Nancy Kelsey contributed to this report.