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Lakers riot: Walking through downtown Los Angeles after the NBA championship

June 15, 2009 |  4:52 am

Call it a Lakers riot? Unruly fans damage a police car in front of Staples Center after the Lakers won the NBA Championship.

See, downtown? This is why you can't have nice things.

You didn't have a real supermarket for 50 years until Ralph's opened in 2007. It's so nice; there's a dry cleaner and a Coffee Bean inside. And you know what's next door? Another Coffee Bean. Literally -- the next door.

Maybe having two espresso machines 100 feet apart made Lakers fans jittery after the team won its 15th NBA title in Orlando. A metal trash can went through a window of the coffee shop immediately east of Ralph's. Something else broke the glass door of a smoothie shop immediately west.

A mob destroys a car parked near Staples Center following the Lakers' championship-clinching victory in the NBA Finals.Most people don't realize it, but downtown is so full of wine bars these days that you can throw a rock and hit one. Somebody did, breaking another window. The owners of a different wine bar locked the doors and stood in front until late into the night. They didn't seem to be celebrating.

Shortly after the big win, revelers gathered outside Staples Center and, uh, trimmed trees to make kindling for a fire in the middle of the street. I know times are tough, but if you're trying to survive these cold Southern California summers, it's easier to put on a T-shirt.

I was standing between LA Live and Staples Center within an hour of the Lakers' victory. I was walking the streets a little further east as the LAPD struggled to chase the last of the knuckleheads from downtown. What should have been a proud moment for the redeveloped area was anything but.

LA Live is supposed to be our version of New York's Times Square. When I drove by on my way home, there wasn't a soul visible -- just some squad cars belonging to the officers who had run everybody away. It wasn't even midnight yet.

A trash can gets thrown on a car as unruly Laker fans surround a car at Pico and Figuerora after the Lakers won the NBA Championship.In the real Times Square, bars were still open -- even with the three-hour time difference. Last call can be as late as 4 a.m. in New York. Yet here in L.A., where the people had good reason to celebrate and gather at a monument to the city, it didn't feel there was anything worth toasting -- or anywhere open to do so.

This reaction is nothing new. I was staying in the Radisson Hotel at Figueroa and Exposition when the Lakers won a title over Indiana on June 20, 2000. Born in L.A., I was just about to move back and thought it was cool that the hotel parking lot became the turnaround for an impromptu parade that spanned 25 blocks from Staples Center, back-and-forth for several hours.

Later, I found out that two cop cars were set ablaze and that 11 people had been arrested.

Early reports from this year's mayhem indicate at least twice as many arrests. I didn't see any cruisers on fire, but I watched the LAPD try to put out blazes in a pair of dumpsters. Thick smoke choked the street about half a mile east of Staples, and I couldn't help but wonder if something you don't want to touch is even worse when you're breathing it in.

Unruly Laker fans loot a shoe store near the Staples Center after the Lakers won the NBA Championship.Speaking of bad smells, I was thankful that a porta-potty I passed wasn't on fire -- though it had been toppled onto its side.

The good news? Only a few of the hooligans were actually, well, hooligans. It seemed that the damage was done by a small number of people. And the LAPD showed a lot of restraint, and occasionally courtesy. A squad car pulled up next to me at a red light and the officer -- observing that I wasn't in a Lakers jersey or testing my horn with my fist -- politely called out, "Be safe out there."

On Wednesday, the Lakers and the city will split the cost for a victory parade, headed down a corridor where fans will come but might not be under normal circumstances. I would usually be shocked to see a Laker there, unless Lamar Odom was satisfying his sweet tooth at a fast-food joint or Adam Morrison was looking for a payday advance (at $4 million per year, you'd think he could dress sharper while sitting on the bench).

Unruly Laker fans jump on and rock a passing car on Pico Boulevard after the Lakers won the NBA Championship.The Lakers have done a lot for this city. It's not just bragging rights for their 15 championships. It's the Staples Center and, as a result, LA Live. It's hope for a downtown area that used to have none. They deserve this parade. But do we?

Let this moment be a reminder to treat downtown a little better. If you've got money, spend some at one of the eclectic restaurants or bars. Help them stay open late, so people have somewhere nice to gather. If you're broke, support the community and check out a free event like an art walk, organized bike ride, or special museum night.

Or at least stop throwing metal trash cans at everything.

-- Adam Rose

First photo: Unruly Lakers fans damage a police car in front of Staples Center after the Lakers won the NBA championship. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

Second photo: A mob destroys a car parked near Staples Center following the Lakers' championship-clinching victory in the NBA Finals. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Third photo: A trash can gets thrown on a car as unruly Lakers fans surround a car at Pico and Figuerora after the Lakers won the NBA championship. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

Fourth photo: Unruly Lakers fans loot a shoe store near the Staples Center after the Lakers won the NBA championship. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

Fifth photo: Unruly Lakers fans jump on and rock a passing car on Pico Boulevard after the Lakers won the NBA championship. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

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