The Lakers’ first NBA championship in a decade was met Sunday with fireworks across Southern California and a large crowd converging near Staples Center, despite the urging of city leaders to stay away.
Police at times clashed with people on the streets of downtown, and there were scattered reports of vandalism in the area.
The California Highway Patrol closed freeway exit ramps into downtown. After the LAPD declared an unlawful assembly, officers began arresting revelers who refused to leave.
Hundreds of Lakers faithful were just outside the Staples Center complex, cheering as the team defeated the Miami Heat 106-93 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Orlando, Fla. Some chanted “Kobe, Kobe” in tribute to the former Lakers great who was killed in a helicopter crash this year.
A big crowd took over the intersection of Figueroa Street and Chick Hearn Court, dancing and jumping and setting off smoke bombs in purple and gold.
Police were blocking entrances into Staples Center and L.A. Live, including some holding weapons used to fire so-called less-lethal projectiles. The crowd was mostly peaceful, although several people could be seen on local TV broadcasts trying to kick in the windshield of an LAPD cruiser.
The screech and smell of tires burning rubber filled some downtown streets. Three blocks from Staples Center, a man waving a large Lakers flag blocked traffic so a tan-colored car could do doughnuts in the intersection, eliciting hoots from the crowd.
Some merchants were on the street selling souvenirs. As the evening wore on, there were reports of young men throwing champagne bottles at officers and police responding with beanbag rounds, sending hundreds of people at the celebration running, witnesses said.
In East Los Angeles, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department shut down Whittier Boulevard to keep the celebration from getting out of hand.
Meanwhile, fireworks could be seen and heard in neighborhoods across the city amid cheers and celebrations.
“I’m in shock,” said Fontana resident Jose Valdez, 24, who came to downtown L.A. in a white Kobe Bryant jersey to watch the game. A red mask covered his nose and mouth but couldn’t hide his elation.
“I’m so happy,” Valdez said.
Daniel Mendoza, 43, livestreamed the revelers outside Staples from his phone. The fast-food worker, who lives in Fresno, rented a room at the JW Marriott for the night to celebrate the victory in the Lakers’ hometown.
“This one is for Kobe,” said Mendoza, who called himself a lifelong Lakers fan. “This one probably means the most of all of them.”
On Friday, Los Angeles Police Department officials had said they were hoping fans would stay home but were prepared for crowd control if needed. Social distancing requirements imposed by the county and city forbid large social gatherings.
LAPD Deputy Chief Vito Palazzolo, who oversees the department’s Central Bureau, which includes L.A. Live, said: “We hope people celebrate at home…. The teams are playing in the bubble, not locally.”
But Cris Roldan, watching a line of vehicles heading toward Staples Center as he gassed up his car about a block away, said he thought many people had driven downtown because they wanted to join the celebration from their cars without risking exposure to the coronavirus by being near people.
“I don’t want to be near too many crowds,” said Roldan, who wore a mask and a gold Lakers jersey.
Magic Johnson, one of the stars of the Lakers’ title-studded Showtime era of the 1980s, took to Twitter to have the last word:
“OK @Dodgers!!! It’s your turn now!!”
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.