Seated courtside at the great parquet floor in the sky, Red Auerbach must be smiling at the play of the Boston Celtics, admiring the clutch shots of forward Kevin Garnett and the deft passes of guard Rajon Rondo during their playoff run.
Yet one aspect of the franchise is prompting him to snap his omnipresent cigar in two: the Celtics Dancers.
Were he alive, Auerbach would not be checking the dancers’ home page at Celtics.com. There, at the top, more than 20 lovelies are clad in the famous green jerseys. “Michelle’s Dancer Diary” includes gems such as: “After a hectic Friday at the office, I ran out the door to go overload on makeup and hair spray. No, it wasn't a game night; rather, I was off to our group photo shoot.” Earlier this month, Dancer of the Week Rebecca announced she was a “fiend for P.F. Chang's ‘Great Wall of Chocolate’” dessert as well as “an animal lover who secretly wants a pet monkey.” Dancer wallpaper is available for downloading.
That’s just the beginning. Check out this site. A dance bracket lets fans vote for their favorite dance squad (this year’s winner: the Miami Heat, a two-peat for former coach Pat Riley). A news item reveals the fact the A-Town Dancers (Atlanta) unveiled their beach pictures on the Hawks Web site, “tons of very sexy photos of their beautiful dancers.” Swimsuit calendars are for sale. (For those unsatisfied by still images, YouTube offers nearly 1,500 links to NBA dancer videos.)
The Celtics were the last of the NBA’s franchises to hire dancers, in deference to Auerbach. They finally announced they’d add a squad in 2006, a few months before he died. But there’s a good reason the 29 other teams employed these entertainers for years.
”The Luvabulls are an extremely important part of our game presentation, which goes a long way in season-ticketholder retention,” said Chicago Bulls Director of Game Operations Jeff Wohlschlaege, who noted the 30-strong dance team – chosen among up to 400 who audition – is sponsored by Bud Light.
In New Jersey, Nets’ fans can enjoy lunch with the dancers as part of their season-ticket package. Taking the appeal of dancers to a different level, the franchise also boasts the NETSational Seniors – more than a dozen dancers mostly in their 60s who performed at a handful of games this season (they have yet to unveil a swimsuit calendar). Across the league, there’s the Pacemates in Indiana, the Automotion in Detroit and, of course, the granddaddy of them all, the Laker Girls, which launched showbiz careers for the likes of Paula Abdul.
That’s not to say these toned, buxom dancers haven’t invited critics. As Kate Darnton wrote in the Boston Globe this year after attending a Celtics’ game, “While we ladies can't help but be impressed by the dancers' skill and flexibility - I didn't know that legs could actually splay in some of those directions - some of us are a little put-off when the porn takes over the paint.”
In other major sports, dancers per se don’t exist, but cheerleaders are often an important part of franchises. Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders have been featured on “The Colbert Report,” while the smarts of Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders were tested on the show “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” Though baseball games are not known for their rah-rah attitude, the Dodgers-Padres spring training event in China in March featured a group of cheerleaders. Perhaps more surprising, the Washington Redskins’ cheerleaders performed at cricket matches in India this year.
Back in Boston, the excitement over the team – which may reach the finals for the first time since 1987 – is soaring. As “Michelle’s Dancer Diary” noted, with a picture of her nearby in black skin-tight leather pants: “What a season to be a part of the Boston Celtics franchise!”
Auerbach himself couldn’t have said it better.