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The downside of victory

Businesses around Staples Center are left to clean up after rowdy Lakers fans turned joy into destruction.

June 19, 2010|By Abby Sewell, Robert Faturechi and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times

For Miriam Aguirre, owner of Kiko's Restaurant near the Staples Center, the morning after was all headache and anger.

On what should have been a day of counting profits and celebrating a hometown win, Aguirre and her husband instead were left to sweep up shards of glass scattered across the floor of their tiny yellow taco shop on Hope Street — the work of a mob of out-of-control Lakers fans who smashed four windows on the restaurant's facade after the team's championship win Thursday night.

"What kind of celebration is that?" Aguirre asked.

She was not alone in asking that question. As the city nursed its collective hangover Friday, many business owners and residents in the blocks surrounding the arena awoke to a day of damage assessments, cleanups and simmering frustration that, once again, a win for the Lakers meant losses for them.

Violence erupted within 30 minutes of the game's end, as rowdy fans poured out of area bars and, shortly after, the 19,000 ticket-holders inside Staples began to emerge. Phalanxes of Los Angeles Police Department officers successfully funneled the tightly packed revelers away from the venue, but bands of mostly young men grew aggressive and brazen as they moved into the surrounding blocks.

A typical scene played out on Figueroa Boulevard, where revelers tore down a traffic sign, ripped open newspaper racks and lighted the papers on fire. As police in riot gear approached, the crowd hurled unopened cans of energy drinks at them. Several men stomped on an SUV parked on the street, breaking its windows..

Police chased the roving groups for about two hours, pushing them farther afield until they dispersed and relative calm returned.

Before it was over, police had fired tear gas and stinging pellets to disperse a scrum of several hundred people who surrounded a city bus filled with passengers and attempted to yank the driver out through a window. A cabbie fled when his taxi was set upon by another mob that kicked in the windshield and set it ablaze. A local YWCA, several restaurants and other storefronts had windows smashed. At least eight people, one of them beaten unconscious, were taken to area hospitals. Firefighters put out 19 rubbish and vehicle fires and police had made about 50 arrests.

"It's unacceptable, and it's disturbing," said Lakers spokesman John Black. "It's obviously nothing new — it happens every [winning] year.... But it's unfortunate that it ruins things for 99.9% of the people who want to come and celebrate it in a nonviolent and celebratory manner."

City officials said Friday that they had not yet tallied the cost of the damage.

Police, who were widely praised for their handling of the raucous crowd, and area business owners agreed that the night's havoc was similar to, but not as severe as, the problems that arose after the Lakers victory last year, when fewer police personnel struggled to contain violent crowds that went on rampages. And it paled in comparison to the mayhem after the team's 2000 title, when cars were torched and stores looted with seeming impunity.

Such post-game violence is hardly unique to Los Angeles. Thursday's upheaval was the latest in a long string of similar incidents that have played out in U.S. cities and abroad after major sports matches. Psychologist and author Robert Cialdini, who has studied the behavior of sports fans, said the seemingly inevitable reaction by fans on the winning side is rooted not only in the emotional connection they build to their teams but in a chemical one as well.

Fans are so heavily invested in their teams that studies have shown that their testosterone levels spike significantly after they watch a major victory, Cialdini said. Elevated levels of the hormone are known to cause increased aggression, especially in young men.

"When the team wins, we win and we feel it in a very personal way," Cialdini said. "We're likely to experience a great sense of arousal and joy even though we haven't done anything."

Such explanations offered little consolation to restaurant owner Aguirre, who estimated that the $1,000 she made on game nights would be spent on fixing the windows.

Robert Reitz, office manager of Ready Productions Inc., a printing company at the corner of 12th and Olive streets, arrived at work Friday morning to find six store windows destroyed and a traffic cone stuffed into one.

"The Lakers cost the city more than they're worth," said Reitz, a one-time season ticket holder who has renounced the team. "I was kind of hoping the other team would win so this wouldn't happen."

Stephen La Bella, who opened the restaurant La Bella Cucina a block from Staples Center more than two decades ago, expressed frustration at what he saw as the LAPD's lopsided concentration on protecting the arena and surrounding L.A. Live entertainment complex that left small-business owners like him to fend for themselves.

In past years, La Bella said, police had guarded his place. But when he called them for help Friday night as patrons jumped on tables, threw glasses and stole bottles of liquor, he was told no officers were available to respond.

"They told us to turn off the TV. Yeah, right. That would have started more of a riot," he said, estimating it would cost him about $15,000 to repair the floor-to-ceiling windows, broken tables and other damage. "They're all over there concerned with that," he said, pointing to the glimmering new development. "Were just second fiddle now."

abby.sewell@latimes.com

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

joel.rubin@latimes.com

Times staff writers Sam Allen, Corina Knoll, Kate Linthicum, Rong-Gong Lin and Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

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