- The Washington Times - Monday, June 15, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Hundreds celebrated in the streets outside Staples Center after the Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA title win Sunday night, with some revelers damaging police cruisers, throwing rocks and bottles at officers and setting bonfires in the street, authorities said.

About 25 people were arrested, most part of a rowdy crowd that split off on to surrounding streets after police declared the gathering an unlawful assembly, officer Karen Rayner said.

Several police cruisers were damaged and reinforcement officers were called in from throughout the city to help disperse the crowd, Rayner said.

Aerial television footage showed people jumping on a police car, rocking vehicles attempting to pass through the crowd, setting small trees on fire and throwing fireworks and flares set up by police. No injuries were reported.

A gas station was looted and several cars, buses and a news van were vandalized, police said.

Chief William Bratton commended officers for showing restraint despite “a lot of provocation from a number of knuckleheads,” he told KTTV-TV.

“It’s not easy to stand there when cowards in the middle of the crowd are throwing rocks and bottles at them,” Bratton said.

Police department strike teams pushed people from the immediate area around the Staples Center into surrounding neighborhoods, breaking the crowds into progressively smaller clusters, police spokeswoman Mary Grady said.

The department declared a citywide tactical alert, meaning all officers on duty were to remain on the job until the crowds dispersed, she said.

Rayner said the arrests were for disturbing the peace, arson, outstanding warrants and other crimes.

Across the country in Florida, the Lakers beat the Orlando Magic 99-86 in Game 5 of the NBA finals to win their 15th championship.

The game was not shown at the Staples Center as it had been in previous years, but revelers from surrounding bars and restaurants and nearby neighborhoods descended on the area around the Lakers’ home for a post-game celebration.

Ben Weiser, 21, donned a Lakers jersey and came downtown from North Hollywood with two friends to be among other fans.

“I watched the last game at home but tonight I wanted to be where the action is,” Weiser said.

Television reports also showed small crowds of people parading through the streets of East Los Angeles, where excitement over the Lakers’ Game 4 win Thursday night spilled into the streets, with rowdy fans swarming vehicles trying to pass through the area.

Fans there filled the streets again Sunday night, but large numbers of sheriff’s deputies quickly dispersed the crowd without incident.

Bratton said that despite the problems the night went “pretty well” compared to expectations following the more widespread violence and vandalism of previous championship celebrations.

In 2000, after the Lakers won their first NBA title in 12 years, fans rioted outside Staples Center, burning police cars and leaving more than 70 vehicles damaged, many at nearby auto dealerships. At least a dozen were injured.

Before the game, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said if the Lakers win they should have a victory parade in Los Angeles, despite the city’s budget woes.

Villaraigosa said he would work with the private sector to help fund the celebration, which was expected to occur on Wednesday.

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