HBO Max’s ‘Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,’ created by Max Borenstein and Jim Hecht, provides a dramatized look at how the Los Angeles Lakers became a force to reckon with throughout the 1980s. The fifth episode chronicles the team ramping up to their opening stretch of games during the 1979-1980 season.
It also has Claire Rothman and Jeanie Buss developing new ideas to bring more crowds to the stadium. One of them is having the Laker Girls, a group of dancers, hired as entertainment. Paul Abdul is introduced as the first Laker Girl on the show. So, if you’re wondering if that’s really the case, here’s what we know.
When Did Paula Abdul Become a Laker Girl?
Paula grew up learning dance at a young age. She took jazz, tap, and ballet dancing lessons early, beginning to dance at seven years old. At Van Nuys High School in California, Paula was a cheerleader, and as a teenager, she began singing as well. Over time, Paula chose to stop doing ballet because she felt she was too short. On the show, we see Jeanie hiring Paula as a dancer, making her the first Laker girl. However, in reality, her journey was far more difficult.
Paula had previously watched the Lakers play and had seen cheerleaders at the games. Some girls she had taught at dance camp were part of the new squad and urged her to try out. At the time of Paula’s auditions in 1980, there were around 1000 girls vying for a spot in the group. But she was cut even before she could dance. However, Paula didn’t give up, changing into a different leotard, entering with her middle name, and changing her appearance instead.
But she was cut this time around as well. Believing the third time was the charm, Paula tried again, getting selected this time around. She later added that she was proud of herself for taking the chance and had also received ample moral support from her father. Within months, Paula became the head choreographer and pushed to move the group away from traditional cheerleading with pom-poms and towards dancing.
Was Paula Abdul the First Laker Girl?
While it has never been confirmed that Paula was the first Laker Girl, she certainly has been the most-recognizable dancer to have emerged from that group. Regarding her time there, Paula said, “I joined the Laker girls for fun. But those games aren’t just games. There’s a heavy show-biz scene there too. There’s a lot of people in the entertainment business in the stands.” In 1984, the Jacksons saw her and were so impressed by her choreography that they asked her to choreograph for one of their songs.
Paula later said of that time, “My only problem was how to tell the Jacksons how to dance. Imagine me telling them what routines to do. I was young; I was scared. I’m not quite sure how I got through that.” Her career took off after that, and she had choreography stints with Janet Jackson, ZZ Top, and George Michael, among other artists. She went on to have a successful music career and has been a judge on reality shows like ‘American Idol‘ and ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’