City officials are warning basketball fans to stay away from downtown unless they have tickets to Game 7 of the NBA finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.
In an attempt to prevent the kind of unrest that broke out after the Lakers won last year's championship, police will deploy hundreds of officers around Staples Center and other parts of the city Thursday to deter anyone from spoiling a potential celebration should the Lakers seize their 16th national championship.
"Win or lose let's honor our hometown team for the amazing season they've given us and let's honor our city and our neighbors by respecting all our laws," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urged fans Wednesday.
Police Chief Charlie Beck said officers will set up a perimeter around Staples Center to let in only those with tickets to the game. Tactical units will stick around afterward to dissuade fans from congregating outside the arena.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said he has notified hundreds of deputies to be on hand in case the police department needs backup.
In 2000, after the Lakers won their first NBA title in 12 years, fans rioted outside Staples Center, destroying two police cars and leaving more than 70 other vehicles damaged.
Last year, the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic in Florida but that didn't stop fans from pouring into downtown. Some set fires, threw rocks and bottles, looted several stores and vandalized public property.
Beck said police were deployed "too sparingly" because it was an away game. He vowed to have "four or five times" as many officers Thursday compared to last year.
To warn against a repeat of the unrest, authorities on Wednesday arrested 31 members of a tagging crew suspected of vandalizing a passenger bus and light rail train that night. The arrests followed a yearlong investigation looking into the post-victory violence that was captured on news footage.
He said he doesn't expect problems, but warned anyone thinking of causing trouble that police will aggressively go after them.
"If you vandalize, if you graffiti, if you assault somebody in conjunction with one of these (celebrations), I take it personally," the chief said. "By those actions, you defame the reputation of the city we all love."
Associated Press Writer Thomas Watkins contributed to this story.
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