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TRIPLE CROWN

Lakers Make It a Three-Peat; Fans Go Wild

June 13, 2002|STEVE SPRINGER and MITCHELL LANDSBERG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The three-peat is complete.

Led by an unstoppable Shaquille O'Neal, the Los Angeles Lakers powered their way to a third straight NBA championship Wednesday and claimed a spot among the dynasties of their sport.

Sweeping the New Jersey Nets in four games, the Lakers realized their goal of a championship "three-peat," something only three other NBA teams--among them the Minneapolis Lakers--have ever done.

Although the victory came on the road in East Rutherford, N.J., it triggered spontaneous, raucous and sometimes unruly celebrations in Southern California.

At Staples Center, where more than 18,000 fans paid $10 each to watch the game on wide-screen televisions, the victory brought a deafening din and some minor vandalism, but nothing compared to the melee that greeted the Lakers' championship two years ago.

As people left the downtown arena, a few set bonfires and began leaping over the flames. Near the 11th Street entrance, police officers fired concussion rounds, scattering people in every direction. Some of the 300 or so rowdy fans confronting police uprooted trees and knocked over news racks.

Scores screamed obscene chants at the police, who moved in formation to disperse the crowds. At least two people were arrested, authorities said.

"We were a little disappointed," LAPD Cmdr. Gary Brennan said. "I expected them to be a little more behaved."

Some fans broke windows of television news vans. At one point, when someone outside Staples set fire to a shirt, police shot foam bullets at the crowd. Many, including people in wheelchairs, began backing up and trying to take cover.

Most fans celebrated loudly but civilly, not just at Staples but at homes, bars, restaurants, fitness clubs and other places throughout the region.

Omar Lang watched the game at a restaurant in Newport Beach owned by former Laker Dennis Rodman. It was Lang's 25th birthday.

"It was awesome. I want to cry. The Lakers win, and it's my birthday," he said as the game ended.

In the final seconds, inside Staples, fans stopped watching and simply started screaming, "Three-peat! Three-peat!" Confetti, Krispy Kreme napkins and rolls of toilet paper flew through the air.

"This is the kind of stuff you see on TV," said fan David Perry. "This is the real L.A."

The victory and the championship series were historic on many fronts, and cemented O'Neal's reputation as one of the most dominating players ever. He won his third straight Most Valuable Player award in an NBA Finals, joining Michael Jordan as the only player to win three straight Finals MVPs.

The victory also meant that the Lakers had done something not realized since they moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis 42 years ago: win three consecutive titles.

"It's a blessing," player Kobe Bryant said of his team.

Laker owner Jerry Buss said he had moments in past years when he doubted whether the team could do it, but on Wednesday he lamented only that more fans couldn't witness the game firsthand.

"To build another championship team like this, I'm so proud of this I cannot even tell you," Buss said. "It's just a shame we couldn't win on our own home floor."

Plans call for a victory parade Friday beginning at 11:30 a.m. near City Hall and proceeding on Figueroa Street to Staples Center, where a rally will begin about 12:50 p.m.

The only other teams to win three consecutive NBA championships are the Chicago Bulls, who did it twice behind Michael Jordan, and the Boston Celtics, who won a remarkable eight straight championships--five of them over the Lakers--from 1958 to 1966. The Minneapolis Lakers were the first team to win three straight championships, dominating the league from 1951-54.

Before Wednesday's game, tickets to watch inside Staples Center were being purchased from scalpers for as much as $50, some $40 above the regular price. As soon as the game began, a four-block area around Staples Center became a "secure zone," where cars and people without tickets were not allowed to cross.

Almost everyone in and around Staples was wearing a uniform--either Laker purple and gold or LAPD blue. Officials said about 1,000 police officers were on game duty throughout the city. About 600 were in and around Staples Center, but another large contingent was in the Crenshaw area, where problems with rowdy cruisers and even shootings had in the past marred championship celebrations.

LAPD Capt. Charlie Beck said the department established a heavy police presence leading up to the championship clincher to set "a standard of conduct."

"It's a great help," he said.

Two years ago, after the Lakers defeated the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 at home, thousands of fans who had been watching on a giant television screen outside Staples Center went on a melee, setting bonfires, overturning cars, tossing garbage cans and smashing windows for several blocks around the arena. Damage was estimated at more than $500,000.

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