April 30, 1992

TV GIVES REAL-WORLD UPDATES

Terry Frei 

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- About half the seats in the Great Western Forum were empty on Wednesday night. This time, snide remarks about the typically ``late-arriving'' Los Angeles crowd were inappropriate.

Given the status of the first-round playoff series, and the rare little-hope plight of the National Basketball Association's marquee franchise, a lot of the tickets might have been destined to be unused, anyway.

Then the jury returned with its incredible verdict in the videotaped clubbing of Rodney King, who is no prince, not even close, but didn't deserve to be treated like a baby seal at the feet of fur-seeking harvesters.

Nobody deserves that. Not baby seals. Not thugs. Not saints. Not Rodney King, no matter where he fits in there.

No, none of us sat in that jury box and heard all the testimony and the charges from the judge. But you wondered if there still is hope for the jury system. You heard Tom Bradley, hardly a voice of unrest, sound so incredulous. You wondered whether the understandable anger and frustration, plus unconscionable opportunism, could lead to violence and looting in Los Angeles.

It did.

And in the Forum, those who showed up started asking: What's going on? Fire at Florence and Normandie, downtown? Is it true that a television station helicopter had problems and barely was able to land? Any streets closed? Just how far can you get on Western Avenue, one of the streets near the Forum?

By halftime -- it seems a little callous to mark time with a basketball game as the point of reference, but only idiots need nights like this to remind them that sports are trivial diversions -- interested fans were congregating at the doorway of the press room in the hallway on the floor level of the Forum.

The television had been switched off the Prime Ticket game broadcast, over to one of the local stations. ``LIVE'', said the graphic in the corner. There were flames, there was smoke, there were cars askew and dented. There were voices, angry and distraught, audible behind the occasionally faltering tones of the on-the-scene television reporters. The studio anchors were doing their best to remain professional and responsible, not fanning the emotions, but reporting.

A little later, Los Angeles was leading 84-83 in the fourth quarter.

Timeout.

KABC, Los Angeles' Channel 7, showed Linda Mour reporting from the Criminal Courts Building in downtown LA. She walked over to the marble sign outside the building. It was spray-painted with graffiti. Youths could be seen walking behind her, on camera, going to the sign. She said nearby, The Los Angeles Times building virtually was under siege. She said nearby, cars were being trashed. I didn't see a policeman in sight, and maybe that was understandable. The anchorman told her it was time to get out of there, to think of her own safety. And when the camera left her, a commentator in the studio said this was Watts ``all over again.''

In the Forum,Terry Porter hit the 3-pointer -- another 3-pointer, Portland's sixth of the game -- that put Portland ahead 96-94. ``I don't believe these guys,'' LA announcer Chick Hearn said.

Seconds later, Portland led 98-96 with 1:55 left. Another timeout.

Stan Chambers, in the Channel 5 helicopter, was flying over a fire, describing the scene. Flick: Channel 4 was reporting that the Harbor Freeway, the main north-south freeway into downtown Los Angeles, was closed from Century Boulevard, near the airport, into downtown.

Vlade Divac poked the ball away from Kevin Duckworth and Los Angeles' Byron Scott scored on the breakway, giving the home team a 102-99 lead. Timeout, 47.6 seconds left.

KABC: ``The fire chief says the situation is very, very tense. There is a report that a United Press International reporter and a New York Times photographer are among those attacked and beaten.'' The public-address announcer gave detour instructions.

Porter hit another ``3'' and the score was tied 102-102 with 29.6 seconds left. ``They might have the ability to beat the Chicago Bulls because of that very ability if they get that far,'' Hearn said of the 3-pointers. Portland passed on another timeout, took the semibreak and settled for overtime when Buck Williams' shot went off the rim.

Overtime coming up.

Channel 5 superimposed a ``Violence in LA'' graphic. A fire department spokesman explained that some ``fires will have to go unattended for a number of reasons.''

Jerome Kersey intercepted a Divac pass, was fouled on the fast break, made 1 of 2 free throws to put Portland ahead 116-114. Timeout, LA.

KABC's Mour hadn't minded her anchorman's orders, and was still at the Courts Building area. 

``Traffic is still going through,'' she said, the light from the camera outlining her against the dark. ``People are driving through taking pictures. Don't do it!''

Divac scored, was fouled by Buck Williams and made the free throw. LA was up 117-116 with 27.5 seconds left. Timeout.

Skycam 5 showed the fire in South Central LA again, and the Forum crowd chanted along with Randy Newman's song: ``We Love LA!''

Kersey threw the ball away. Terry Teagle made two free throws. LA was up by three, 119-116. ``Hit the Road, Jack'' blared through the building during the timeout.

Drexler, who otherwise had a marvelous game, missed the important free throw in the final seconds. Same with Scott for LA, but LA escaped 121-119.

And the crowd went out into the real world of frustration and fears.

May 1, 1992

EVENTS CAST PALL ON SPORTS

Terry Frei

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- The spray-painted message on the side of one building on nearby Florence Avenue says: ``NAZI LAPD.'' Inglewood High School's marquee announces that classes are canceled for Thursday and Friday. The parking lot gate at Hollywood Park Race Track, at a moment when the early arriving handicappers are supposed to be eating lunch and beginning to plot their daily-double strategies, is padlocked shut.

Across the street, the Forum's lot is open, but the word is that the staffs of the tenant franchises and of the building are going to be sent home soon.

Smoke, a single rising cloud of smoke, one that would seem curious any other day, but is ominous as Thursday noon approaches, is visible to the east of the building. How far away? A mile, maybe two, perhaps a little more. But close, regardless.

There are cars on the adjacent streets, but this has the look of the moments after dawn, when light has arrived, but the traffic still is light.

At the bottom of the Forum's service ramp, the single security guard is watching TV in his booth.
 
The news still isn't good. Anger and frustration over the verdicts in the Rodney King beating case don't explain this. Poor excuses for human beings, many of them who probably don't even grasp the details of their alleged excuse, are pillaging, burning, looting. By now, this is low-life thuggery of a relative few. One verdict, however seemingly incredible, doesn't explain this lunacy. This is gutting the neighborhoods of those who have every right to feel betrayed, first by the verdict, but now by the actions of others around them.

And on the basketball floor, the same floor where the Los Angeles Lakers staved off elimination in the first-round NBA playoff series with a 121-119 overtime victory over Portland the night before, the home team is just finishing practice with a free-throw drill.

Tension in the air? Not really.

The players aren't oblivious, but they aren't putting their world, their little games, and even the typical gallows humor of the locker room, on hold.

So as the Los Angeles players walk off the floor, heading to their locker room, Rory Sparrow, the veteran guard headed to law school after his retirement, turns to reserve Jack Haley and tells him he can be an ``honorary brother'' for the day.

The ``other'' basketball playoff game, Utah vs. the Los Angeles Clippers at the downtown Sports Arena, already has been postponed and pushed back from Thursday night to Saturday afternoon. How can you have thousands showing up for a basketball game when the dusk-to-dawn curfew begins at 7:36, about the time of the tipoff? You can't. So the Utah players, who like the Portland players are staying in Marina del Rey -- about a 15-minute drive northwest of the Forum, will wait.

Philadelphia vs. Los Angeles baseball in Chavez Ravine Thursday night? Postponed, too.

``Phantom of the Opera'' at the Ahmanson Theatre? This time, the show musn't go on.

But practice does.

At this point, nobody knows whether Game 4 of the Los Angeles-Portland series will go as scheduled on Friday night.

In the Los Angeles locker room, five players form a semicircle in front of the television, watching a live report from Washington Boulevard and Western Avenue, near downtown.

Elden Campbell and Byron Scott, the area natives, repeatedly are asked for their reactions. 

 
Unfortunate, they say; misguided, but neither unexpected nor completely misunderstandable.

A little later, the Portland team bus pulls up and the players file in. They heard more of the same questions. Did you watch last night? What did you think? How are you feeling? Rick Adelman, who was raised in the Los Angeles area, talks about his memories of the 1965 Watts disturbances, and that makes more sense than asking Campbell -- who wasn't born then.

Clyde Drexler, who watched the live television reports until about 2 in the morning, repeatedly says: ``It's a tragedy, and that's all I'm going to say about that.''

Predictably, as happened during the Overtown riots in Miami before the 1989 Super Bowl, and in the aftermath of the 1989 Bay area Earthquake during the World Series, athletes are being asked to talk of ``perspective.''

``I'm not into politics,'' Drexler says. ``Everybody has an opinion on every subject. But some things need to be kept on a personal level. There are publicly elected officials who should comment on these things. As professional athletes, there are some guys who want to be outspoken, and they can express their opinions. I prefer to stay quiet.''

Outside the Forum again, the nearby cloud of smoke still is visible.

Wait.

It is a different cloud, a little closer, a little darker.

In Inglewood, on Manchester Boulevard, cars are backed up, in long lines, at the gas station pumps. People are backed up, in a long line, at automatic-teller machines. A police car is haphazardly parked on the curb outside the New World Jewelers. A few small crowds are gathered on the streets. A motorcycle zips by, and the helmeted driver looks over, staring. The look is hard to interpret, especially because of the visor.

Back in the Marina, stores were open and everyday life seemed unchanged. Unchanged except for the conversation and the preoccupation with the shocking and compelling shots from television.

Television is doing a marvelous job of covering the mess, but I wonder about the unanswerable questions: Is the compelling coverage just egging them on? Or will it help trigger the sort of outrage that can end the anarchy sooner?

Time after time, the live pictures are coming from areas near the University of Southern California. Strip shopettes are burning. Other buildings are being looted. I remembered going into a bar across the street from Memorial Coliseum and USC after filing stories at the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics, listening to some music and waiting for the buses to get clearance to leave. We bought some beer to go, we walked past a house next door and figured out that the bottles did not have twist caps. A man laughed at us and, making it clear enough in Spanish and pantomime that we should wait a few seconds, went into his house, brought out a bottle opener and let us use it. I wondered if he still lived there, and how he was doing on Thursday.
 
Four thousand National Guardsmen are coming. Fourteen dead by one count by 5 p.m., 16 by another. Gov. Pete Wilson speaks, and the stations don't merely show him at the podium; they show live shots of the destruction as he speaks. There is gridlock on the freeways, even more so than usual, and panicking drivers are using the medians and the shoulders to make progress. There is a black pall of smoke over the Civic Center and over the Griffith Park Observatory. Looting and vandalism is spreading to the Century City and Beverly Hills areas. Firefighters have been shot. Fires rage. Looters are barricaded in pawn shops, where firearms and ammunition are part of the inventory. A fireman takes down a flag at a burning Kentucky Fried Chicken store. ``This is still a good country,'' he says to Channel 2's Jodi Baskerville.

Update: 17 dead now.

And the sun is about to go down.