Los Angeles just won NBA, MLB crowns, but COVID-19 has parades on hold

The streets of downtown Los Angeles were swarmed with fans in mid-October after the Lakers beat the Miami Heat to win their 17th NBA championship and first since 2010. A similar scene played out Tuesday after the Dodgers won their first World Series title in 32 years. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Makar)

LOS ANGELES – The Dodgers won their first World Series since 1988 Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Rays, leaving Los Angeles sports fans eager for an official celebration despite the rising cases of COVID-19 in the county.

Thousands of fans gathered downtown, at Dodger Stadium and in other parts of LA to watch Mookie Betts and the Dodgers clinch the World Series with a 3-1 Game 6 win over the Rays. Scottsdale native Cody Bellinger was an important piece of the championship run, with four home runs and 13 RBIs in the postseason.

The tense win sent fans into a frenzy before police intervened, arresting eight people suspected of looting and vandalism. Three officers were injured, according to ABC7 in Los Angeles.

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The celebration – and a similar one Oct. 11 after the Los Angeles Lakers won their first NBA championship since 2010 – has health experts concerned.

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday the county is displaying an increase in cases and infection rate in the past month, and she pointed to sports gatherings as one of the reasons for the backslide. Tuesday’s celebrations echoed the rowdy street celebration earlier this month when the Lakers took down the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

“We have all seen the pictures of sports fans rooting for their teams where they’re shouting in the middle of a large crowd and almost no one is wearing a face covering,” Ferrer told reporters. “This is the perfect setting for transmitting the virus.”

Los Angeles residents remain under the state’s strictest level of COVID-19 precautions, but that didn’t stop many Lakers and Dodgers fans from shooting off fireworks and taking to the streets in celebrations that grew unruly and dangerous at times.

“We did not predict that the reopening of sports without spectators would create so many opportunities where people might be gathering and not, in fact, be adhering to the basic safety requirements of getting through a pandemic,” Ferrer said.

A similar frenzy erupted in downtown streets a few weeks ago when the Lakers won the NBA championship. Matthew Soryal, who was part of that celebration, said there were dangerous moments in the streets, and tension between police and Lakers fans.

“There were tons of people crowded together jumping and hugging each other, no real social distancing at all,” he said. “I was afraid the crowd would upset the police. It was definitely not safe. A firework even exploded right next to my leg and I started bleeding.”

The Laker and Dodger championships mark the second time (the first was in 1988) that LA has taken home the World Series and Larry O’Brien trophies in the same year. Los Angeles is the only city to accomplish this, and fans refused to let the pandemic stop them from celebrating.

“Everyone pretty much pretended that COVID didn’t exist for a night,” Soryal said.

However, state law prevents any sort of championship parade or sanctioned gathering. This is typically a ritual for championship sports teams and will sorely be missed by fans in Los Angeles.

The Dodgers released a statement to their fans, expressing their desire to celebrate with them.

“This season was everything we believed it could be. It was just missing one thing: the best fans in baseball,” it said. “While the wait for a World Championship is finally over, a celebration worthy of our great fans and the city of Los Angeles will unfortunately have to wait until it is safe to do so.”

Lakers superstar LeBron James, who has been demanding respect since taking home the Finals MVP en route to an NBA championship, also took to social media to call for a parade or celebration of some sort.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, in a reply to James on Twitter, said he’s “down for anything safe,” adding that he and James should talk it over.

However, many LA residents and sports fans around the country took to social media to express concern that the city even is considering a celebration during the pandemic.

They also criticized Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner for competing in the World Series while positive for COVID-19 and returning to the field for celebration after the win. Major League Baseball announced that the situation is under investigation, Fox LA reported.

Turner also has his share of supporters who either are downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 or highlighting the importance of a sports championship in a year marked by tragedies for Los Angeles.

Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna died in a helicopter accident in January, and actor Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer in August.

“These championships mean everything to me, they were more than just average championships,” LA native Spencer Jallali said. “The pandemic has been looming over our heads, families throughout the state have been displaced by wildfires, thousands are under evacuation order.”

“With the tragic passing of Kobe and Gigi Bryant and Chadwick Boseman, the city needed these wins now more than ever.”

Sports Reporter, Los Angeles

Johnny Messiha is a Southern California native who expects to graduate in spring 2021 with his master’s degree in sports journalism. He has served as a commentator at the University of San Diego, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in communication studies.