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A Victory Marred by Violence

NBA Championship: Lakers 116 - Pacers 111

June 20, 2000|CARLA HALL and JOHNATHAN BRIGGS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A whoop of joy erupted across Southern California Monday night as the Lakers secured the NBA championship, but the elation was quickly marred by violence.

Outside the Staples Center, crowds torched two police cars and another vehicle, set bonfires and burned T-shirts and posters moments after the Lakers' 116-111 victory over the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the NBA finals.

When police on motorcycles tried to clear 11th Street in front of the center by forcing the crowd onto the sidewalk, fans threw bottles and other objects. An hour after victory, a line of police in riot-gear began advancing on the crowd, which had swelled to 6,000. A line of about 60 police officers, 30 on horseback, began pushing the crowd away from the center.

One group tore branches from trees and stuffed them in a car before setting it on fire. Others pounced on and kicked a limousine stuck in the throng. About 10 minutes later, hundreds turned on an unoccupied TV news van parked on 11th street, shattering windows and trying to turn it over.

As late as 10:30 p.m., those inside the Staples Center could hear the buzzing of police helicopters overhead.

Those who remained at Staples to celebrate inside were out of luck for awhile. Security was allowing nobody out, and from the upper concourse level, facing Parking Lot 2, where the bulk of the spectators will be for Wednesday's victory celebration, the view was of a long line of police with nightsticks drawn, their backs to Staples and facing down the milling crowd in Lot 2.

An hour and a half after the game ended, the fires were out. One had consumed the police car on 11th Street--a group of teenage boys had first kicked out its windows--and the other had burned a Reuters news van. All that was left flickering were a few newspaper piles near some Times racks at the southwest corner of Lot 2. Four hours before, it had been a hot spot for people buying souvenir papers and Times T-Shirts.

But elsewhere throughout the city, people wallowed noisily but peacefully in their victory--the seventh NBA title for the Los Angeles team, but the first in 12 years. In fact, the last national title won by a Los Angeles team in any major sport was in 1988, when the Dodgers won the World Series and the Lakers won the NBA championship.

Widespread Euphoria

In an area usually more Balkanized than the Balkans, the same euphoria erupted throughout the Southland in house parties and bar throngs, from busboys and patrons, cabbies and fares.

Lest her loyalties be mistaken, Ursula Barrios, 20, of Irvine had written "Lakers" and "#1" in red ink on her cheeks. "I've been a fan since I was five," she explained. "This will give us a feeling of pride and unity. We are all be together because we all wanted the Lakers to win."

The game attracted some who aren't usually fans who were gathered at Champps Americana Sports Bar at the Irvine Spectrum. Sonali Jhurani of Irvine said she came out even though she doesn't ordinarily follow basketball. "I'm just cheering the Lakers on because they're the home team," said Jhurani, 20. "This is getting all the kids off the streets and into the sports bars to watch the game. Winning is an honor."

Tim Thompson, 53, president of a company in Santa Ana, said he got caught up in the excitement. "I'm a Southern Californian," he said, "and this is a matter of pride. Basketball is getting a little more lively--you've got to root for them."

For those who have been Laker backers all along, the moment was especially sweet.

"We haven't had a team that did anything in a very long time," said Lesley Johnstone, owner of a company in Newport Beach. "Finally we have someone to root for--a team to show that L.A. isn't just a flaky city with fans who couldn't care less."

The victory, she said, will help create unity across highly diverse Southern California.

"It doesn't matter if you're black, white or Hispanic," Johnstone said. "Everyone feels the same. It doesn't matter if you're from Newport Beach or downtown Los Angeles, this brings us all together to celebrate the energy, excitement and vitality."

In Los Angeles' Westwood seconds after the game-ending buzzer announcing the Lakers' championship victory over Indiana, bar doors flung open, people burst into the streets, car horns began honking and shouts of "Whoa, yeah!" and "Kobe Rules!" echoed off the storefronts. "Boy, this town is going to party tonight!" said Ivan Arnold, a 26-year-old dot-com-er among a pack of howling, dancing fans streaming out of the Westwood Brewing Company. "It's electric--can't you feel it?"

You could hear it. From a parking garage at LAX, cheers and honking echoed through the cavernous levels at the moment of the win.

Jubilation and Vandalism

Outside the Staples Center, people climbed light poles and tore down street signs and stop signs and waved them in jubilation.

"We waited 12 years for this. It was one of the best games in the NBA! I love this game!" said Daniel Huerta, 20, of San Fernando.

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