We went to the Laker game the other night at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. Jack was very excited because the Lakers were hosting the Houston Rockets, who recently acquired Trevor Ariza, his favorite player, from the Lakers. Before the game, there was an emotional ring ceremony during which Trevor received his championship ring from last season. Jack was riveted and I was so moved by the intensity of his admiration for this player. Jack is an impassioned basketball player. He still plays baseball each spring, mostly to please his father, but his true love is basketball. He has informed me that he will provide for us in our retirement years with his big NBA salary. Thus, we encourage his love of the game. He spends many hours each week down on the driveway working on his jump shot. He has beautiful form and thinks that Joey could learn a thing or two from him. As Joey towers over Jack by at least a foot, he is not inclined to take him up on his offer.
The Lakers came out strong and quickly posted a commanding lead at the end of the first quarter. As I sensed the game was going to be a blowout, my attention started to wander and I began focusing intently on the Laker Girls. I realized that Emily is just a few years younger than most of these girls. As a mother, I wondered about the journey that had brought each one of them to this time and place and if they were satisfied with the fruits of their labor. During the pre-game activities, we had seen a video of their auditions, and the skills and talents they displayed impressed me. As I watched their live performance, however, I was underwhelmed. Although there was lots of "T & A", the routine was mostly boring and uninspired, resembling nothing more than a well-executed drill team. All those years of training and practice had culminated in this, the pinnacle of their careers, shaking and spinning in silver skirted bikinis.
After the first performance, the dancers trotted off court and headed to the locker rooms for a wardrobe change. They returned a few minutes later wearing shorts and black tank tops with some writing across the chest that I assumed said "Lakers". However, as they took center court for their next set, the multiple overhead video monitors lit up with trailers for "Ninja Assassins", some bloody R-rated movie due in theaters later that week. I realized that the script across the Laker Girls' shirts was actually the movie title. They were no longer dancing for the team, they were promoting a crappy action film that the critics described as "awash in blood" that "spurts and sprays in geysers". The dancers kicked their legs high, shook their big hair and flashed their beauty pageant smiles as the monitors rolled a relentless sequence of fight scenes and a ridiculous torrent of flying blades. I am sure I was not the only one who was stunned by this display of obvious incongruities but I held my tongue and waited for the game to resume.
At the start of the second half, the Rockets had cut the Laker lead to a slim margin and we had ourselves a real ball game. The Laker Girls returned in a new costume, some sci-fi looking leotard with a black body and bright yellow sleeves. I strained to see the writing on their backs, finally realizing that it said "Carl's Jr." At the next commercial time-out, the dancers again bounced out onto the floor, kicking and waving before they settled into formation, facing away from our seats. The lights dimmed and all the marquees in the arena flickered with "Carl's Jr." logos. A pulsating bass beat filled the center as the girls awaited their cue...5, 6, 7, 8. They sprang into action, lifting their heads and greeting the fans across the way before spinning around to greet us. Now regarding them in full frontal, I was immediately drawn to the Carl's Jr. star logo placed strategically at the top of each of their pubic bones. “Fire crotch” was the first thought that came to mind. I looked around for a woman, any woman, who shared my disgust and finally spied an older mom a few seats away whose mouth was agape.
I remember being a freshman in high school the first time I saw the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders on Monday Night Football. Incredulous, I asked my dad when pro sports added cheerleaders. He had not seemed to notice them before I pointed them out, but reassured me that it was a fad that would never last. While professional cheerleading seems to be here to stay, at least it has less commercial origins in high school and college athletics. But with the newest mutation that I witnessed that night, commercialism seemed to have achieved a new low. These women were no longer cheerleaders or dancers, they were just billboards with boobs – “This space for rent”. I wondered if any of the dancers objected to being exploited by the sponsors so distastefully, or if they even questioned it. As the Lakers let the Rockets run off with the lead and the game, we slipped out before the final wardrobe change, never to know which lucky sponsor got the last dance.