Laker Girls: One tough assignment

By Matt Calkins
The Press Enterprise
May 26, 2009

LOS ANGELES – In what form, I don’t know. From which religion, I couldn’t tell you.

And even though it might prompt letters, I’m gonna say this with firm conviction: There is a God.

Here’s an email from my boss last week to prove it.

Subject: Column idea

Matt,
(An editor) was browsing through the media guide and noticed there were two Laker Girls from Corona and Temecula. See what you can do.

I scrolled down thinking I might find Bill Gates’ pin number, too.

richelle-rodriguez

The assignment was to interview Corona’s Richelle Rodriguez and Temecula’s Lindsey Tuer in hopes of better understanding what it’s like to be part of the NBA’s most famous dance team.

So last Thursday, before the Lakers met the Nuggets in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, I trudged down to Staples Center ready to (cough) work.

Tuer actually had the night off, so my only face-to-face would be with Rodriguez, whom I’d arranged to speak with at 4:30 p.m. But alas, after waiting outside the Laker Girls dressing room for about 25 minutes, it was 4:40 and I still hadn’t seen her.

“Nobody’s walked out of there in the last 10 minutes, right?” I asked an usher.

“No,” he responded. “But if you need to talk to someone in there, just knock.”

Knock on the Laker Girls dressing-room door? I thought. Isn’t that something you win in a “Price is Right” showcase?

But I did so nonetheless, and was pointed down the hall to Laker Girl director, Lisa Estrada, the point of contact for all team members.

“Where would you like to do the interview?,” Estrada asked.

Um…my high school reunion? I thought.

“In the stands is fine,” I said.

lindsey-tuer1

Now, if for some reason you’re ever asked to describe to a sketch artist what you think a Laker Girl might look like, you’ll end up with a portrait of Rodriguez. The 20-year-old is a Colgate, Noxema and Pantene Pro V commercial all rolled into one…yet still manages to come off a little shy.

Turns out dancing has long been the lubricant that’s helped Rodriguez wriggle out of her shell – not to mention a talent that earned her the title of Youngest Laker Girl when she made the team as an 18-year-old last year.

Right now she’s studying dance at Riverside Community College with aspirations of a career in make-up artistry.

Tuer, who I talked with over the phone, is a 23-year-old Temecula Valley High grad living in Huntington Beach. Now in her fourth year with the squad, she works as a bartender and song-leading coach at El Toro High, and hopes to make it in the entertainment industry.

After talking to each for about a half an hour, here’s what some of my extensive (this darn cough won’t go away) research revealed.

1. The Laker Girls are bright: Think mascara is the only three-syllable word they know? Not so much. Past squad members have included medical students, financial analysts, pharmaceutical reps and college professors. Granted… they might occasionally get one of these, but still.

2. The Laker Girls are big-hearted: In addition to the bi-weekly practices and 48 games per season, they attend three to five charitable functions per week, ranging anywhere from the Make-a-Wish Foundation to local volunteer projects. I believe they are also the leading cause of philanthropy in males 18-40.

3. The Laker Girls are brutal: Before each game, the ladies lock hands in a circle, shout something alliteratively sadistic toward the Lakers’ opponents and yell “huh!” Examples? “Nail the Nuggets!” “Bomb the Blazers!” “Slaughter the Suns!”

“You don’t say ‘Murder the Magic’, do you?” I asked Tuer.

“Probably,” she said with a laugh. “We’re pretty hardcore.”

The audition process is no less merciful. Only 22 of the 500-plus women who tried out made the team this season – and everyone has to re-audition each year.

Oh, and how do you know if you made the first cut? Easy. A judge didn’t walk by and snip your wristband off.

It should be pointed out that the Laker Girls are not allowed to fraternize with the players themselves.

I did, however, ask Lakers guard Sasha Vujajic if he’s ever been distracted by them during a game.

“Never,” he said.

Sounds about right.

First of all, getting to the NBA generally requires a healthy supply of focus. And second – the Laker Girls are actually one of the more conservatively dressed dance teams in the league.

“I always laugh when guys are afraid that taking a picture with us is going to get them in trouble with their wife or girlfriend,” Rodriguez said. “I mean, it’s not like we’re the Hooters girls.”

Hey boss, I got an idea for a follow-up.

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