Crowds gather outside Staples Center after Lakers win NBA championship

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Hundreds of Lakers fans crowded into the streets just outside Staples Center Sunday evening, flouting pandemic-related restrictions to celebrate the team’s first NBA championship in a decade.

As crowds grew and spilled into other streets of downtown Los Angeles, footage surfaced online later in the evening showing police officers fire non-lethal projectiles. LAPD confirmed to KTLA that officers were firing projectiles, saying they did so because some fans were throwing rocks and bottles at other fans as well as officers.

Fans descended upon the area outside Staples immediately after the Lakers beat the Miami Heat 106-93 in Game 6 of the Finals at 7 p.m. L.A. Live was barricaded off on Friday to prevent large crowds from gathering and violating pandemic orders.

Some video from the ground shows fans wearing Kobe Bryant and LeBron James jerseys, waving Lakers flags as they filled the streets. Sky5 captured a small fire along one street downtown and crowds of people blocking traffic in the intersection just outside Staples.

The NBA title comes in the same year the team lost its icon, Kobe Bryant. A Laker his entire career, he led the team to five championships including in 2010, the last title the team won.

All across Los Angeles, celebratory fireworks rang out and landmarks such as L.A. City Hall and the Santa Monica Ferris Wheel lit up in purple and gold.

“I think none of us are going to go to sleep early tonight,” Mayor Eric Garcetti told KTLA just after 10 p.m. “What a year it’s been, and I think Kobe’s passing at the beginning of this year reminded us the Lakers are one of the spiritual hearts of this city. And boy, could we use this good news in what has been such a tough year.”

In West Hollywood, fans clad in Lakers jerseys who were watching the game in outdoor seating areas of restaurants erupted in cheers as the Lakers won, some chanting “for Kobe.”

“It’s been a tough year and this is the reason why we won it. For him — him and his daughter — it’s been tragic, and we needed this … just this, right now,” Lakers fan Cameron Jurado said, referring to the tragic loss of Bryant and his daughter Gigi earlier this year.

Los Angeles County health officials urged Angelenos to celebrate from their homes to curb the spread of the coronavirus, suggesting virtual watch parties, displaying team flags and wearing Lakers gear instead of crowding into public spaces.

Before Game 5 Friday, Garcetti held a brief press conference to urge Angelenos to celebrate a potential victory from home.

“We’re gonna have to celebrate where we are,” Garcetti said. “I’m asking Angelenos to make sure all the progress we have made in our fight against COVID-19 isn’t reversed from one night of celebration.”

“I encourage you to yell at the top of your lungs inside your homes, maybe even open up the window or step outside your door,” Garcetti said. “Let’s thank the Lakers when they win, but let’s do it safe.”

He repeated that advice Sunday night, telling L.A. fans to follow social distancing guidelines when celebrating. However, as he spoke to KTLA just after 10 p.m., he said the crowds had dwindled.

“We’ve seen a lot of people actually leave already. It’s actually down to about 500 people, only one arrest and we’re hoping folks will just go home,” Garcetti said.

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