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Knife-wielding man apprehended on court before Clippers-Cavaliers game

No one is hurt as players flee the court while suspect engages police in a standoff at Staples Center before being taken into custody.

March 19, 2011|By Lisa Dillman
  • An employee talks on the phone as basketball fans wait outside while police engage in a standoff with a knife-wielding man on the Staples Center floor less than two hours before the Clippers-Cleveland game Saturday afternoon.
An employee talks on the phone as basketball fans wait outside while police… (Associated Press )

Panic spread at Staples Center less than two hours before the Clippers-Cleveland Cavaliers game Saturday when a knife-wielding man got on the court and engaged police in a standoff lasting nearly half an hour.

Los Angeles police officers ultimately tackled the man near the Cavaliers' bench and took him into custody without anyone getting hurt. As of press time, police had not identified the man or announced any charges.

The three Clippers closest to the man — Eric Bledsoe, Randy Foye and Al-Farouq Aminu — were able to run off the court, as was Christian Eyenga of the Cavaliers. No other players were on the court. A Clippers assistant coach, Howard Eisley, jumped over the scorer's table to get away. Eyenga said a member of the Clippers' dance team first shouted that the man had a gun.

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There were also plenty of children around the court, but not many spectators in the building at the time. Foye, who was in the middle of adjusting his shoe, sprinted away, slipping and wearing only one shoe. He saw teammate Eric Bledsoe next to him and said the man with the knife earlier had run past Bledsoe.

"That was crazy.... Next thing you know, I look up, and it's like somebody standing 15 feet from me with a long knife, a long shiny knife," Foye recounted after the game.

"I'm looking, like, 'Is this real?' I was in shock when I saw it…. But it was serious because there were a lot of kids in there. We were thinking about the worst-case scenario if he would have grabbed one of them kids and held them hostage or something. If something had happened with one of those kids, it would have been heartbreaking."

A security officer noticed an individual walking around the employee entrance about 10:45 a.m., said Staples Center Senior Vice President Lee Zeidman in a news briefing. "He tried to enter the doors and we tried to secure him and stop him … he pulled out a knife at that point and told our officers in no uncertain terms to get away from him," Zeidman said.

LAPD officers, who arrived shortly afterward, tried to negotiate with the man.

Players watched the spectacle unfold on a video monitor in a hallway outside their locker rooms. The Clippers' Blake Griffin even dribbled a basketball in the hallway to get loose for the game. Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro and Cavaliers Coach Byron Scott both wanted to delay the game's start by 15 minutes.

"And the league said five [minutes], which I don't understand," Scott said. "Either give us 15 or don't give us any."

Officials said it was unclear what had prompted the behavior.

"There was a lot of vulgarity, a lot of statements that didn't make any sense," Zeidman said. "We quite frankly don't understand why he tried to do this. There were no specific demands; just told us to back away or else you're going to get hurt: 'Leave me alone. I'm prepared to do whatever it takes to get whatever I want.' But he never made any statements to our people to the effect of what he actually wanted."

Foye heard him clearly, at one point: "I know what he was saying: 'What are you going to do? Shoot me?' That's all I remember him saying."

Aminu thought the suspect was "trying to get attention."

Said Foye: "When I was younger growing up in north New Jersey, I've seen people get shot before and stabbed…. I've never seen nothing like that, up close, since. My tendencies of getting out of the way of harm kicked in. I just took off."

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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