Korean Laker Girl Sujan Pang: Defying expectations

November 13, 2014
Sujan Pang begins her first year as a Laker Girl in the 2014-15 NBA season. (Korea Times)

Sujan Pang proudly begins her first year as a Laker Girl in the 2014-15 NBA season. (Korea Times)

By Brian Han

Laker Girl Sujan Pang has been trying for years to secure her place as a dancer on arguably the most prestigious cheerleading squad in the sports world, and this season she was almost ready to accept the same fate as years previous.

“I heard we were going to get a phone call regarding the decision,” Pang said. “As Lisa [Estrada], our director, called me, she opened by thanking me for coming out and asked how I enjoyed the process, so in my head, I started thinking this was a nice little cushion for my rejection, so I prepared myself for the worst news. Then the moment she told me I had made it, I burst into tears. It was a very special moment for me.”

On the surface, most fans only see good looks and expertly executed choreography, but with so much competition amongst those who try out, there are intangible traits that are integral in distinguishing those that are truly qualified to be a Laker Girl.

“I don’t think the best dancer is always the best candidate for a Laker Girl,” said Director of Game Operations and Entertainment and former Laker Girl Lisa Estrada. “If they don’t understand the qualities needed outside of dancing, they probably won’t make the team. In addition to being a good dancer, the ideal Laker Girl needs to be a good brand ambassador, articulate when speaking to the public and be able to engage the community in a meaningful way.”

"There's a feeling of camaraderie and pride that's unmatched when you're a Laker Girl," Pang said. (Korea Times)

“There’s a feeling of camaraderie and pride that’s unmatched when you’re a Laker Girl,” Pang said. (Korea Times)

For Pang, she had been confident that aside from dancing, she had these qualities and could prove it if she made it far enough into the tryouts.

“After four years of auditioning, this was the first year I made it to the finals, which gives us the opportunity for a one-on-one interview with Lisa,” Pang said. “It was important that I make it to that point so she could see exactly what kind of person I am and what I could offer to the organization.”

Estrada had familiarized herself with Pang through previous tryouts as well as another dance project outside of the Lakers, so she was able to witness Pang’s development over the years and was finally convinced she was ready to call on her to join the squad.

“I’m always an open book in the sense that if someone doesn’t make the team and asks me for constructive criticism, I’ll tell them exactly what I think they need to improve on in the next 365 days until the next time around,” Estrada said. “I could tell that Sujan was taking my advice and even changed her look and got in better shape year after year. It made me happy to make that call and tell her that all her hard work had paid off.”

Even though Pang spent a little more than a decade in Alaska where she was born and raised, she had always been a Lakers’ fan deep down.

“I was a total tomboy because of my older brother and learned to love sports,” Pang said. “There aren’t any local teams to root for so we both became die-hard Lakers’ fans growing up.”

After moving to Los Angeles with her family, Pang got her first taste of competitive dancing in high school that transformed her hobby into a career-worthy endeavor.

Although Pang is relishing every moment as a Laker Girl, she hopes to continue a successful career as a behavior therapist for autistic children. (Korea Times)

Although Pang is relishing every moment as a Laker Girl, she hopes to continue a successful career as a behavior therapist. (Korea Times)

As for her parents who are Korean immigrants, they didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Pang’s vision for her future.

“Although my parents have always been supportive, I have these high school memories of devoting so much time into developing my talent and of them not attending some of my performances and competitions,” Pang said. “At that point, they felt that it was more of a hobby while I kept trying to stress to them that this was important to me and it was going to be worthwhile in the end.”

Once she started to dance on a more professional platform at the University of Southern California, her parents took notice.

“I saw that a lot of the dancers [from USC] were going on to work for professional sports teams in the NBA, NFL and MLS,” Pang said. “I knew that was the next step in my career.”

Not only did she start working as a dancer, she started developing a career as a behavior therapist for autistic children after majoring in psychology.

“I can see myself being a Laker Girl for years to come, but my primary goal is to get my master’s degree in applied behavior analysis and continue to grow my career outside of dancing,” Pang said.

Her ability to juggle two demanding careers comes down to a learned discipline that she attributes to her parents and her traditionally Korean upbringing.

“The Korean culture is a huge source of pride for me,” Pang said. “My parents worked very hard to be where they are today and they sacrificed a lot to allow me to live out my dream. Without the culture and the discipline they’ve instilled in me, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

14 Comments

  1. Clive

    November 13, 2014 at 8:33 PM

    She’s American. Not Korean.

    • Edward

      November 14, 2014 at 8:39 AM

      Depends. Does she have a green card or is she a citizen?

      Any ways, I don’t think U.S. citizenship is a prerequisite to being a Lakers’ girl.

    • Suege

      November 14, 2014 at 1:47 PM

      She was born in Alaska. Go cousin!

  2. Patrick

    November 14, 2014 at 5:10 AM

    U know i hate the fakers but congrats on the article brian.

  3. Elizabeth

    November 14, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    Clive, nowhere in the article does it state that she’s a Korean citizen. She’s ethnically Korean.

    To the author, thanks for writing all these great sports stories. The common thread to success is hard work and persistence, traits that Koreans and Korean Americans deem important.

  4. Joseph

    November 14, 2014 at 1:06 PM

    Wow! Awesome.

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  7. Tina

    November 14, 2014 at 8:18 PM

    So proud of you Sujan! It seems like yesterday we were playing in your downstairs, outside in our yards. You are an amazing woman keep it up!

    Tina

  8. Lorri Clark

    November 14, 2014 at 9:41 PM

    Congratulations Sujan! It’s great to hear when the kids from the old neighborhood are successful! I’m very happy for you.
    Lorri C.

  9. Heidi Pluid

    November 15, 2014 at 11:17 AM

    Congratulations to my other daughter Sujan, we are so very proud of you!!!

  10. James

    November 15, 2014 at 1:24 PM

    Hey clive
    What does it mean to be American.
    Meditate on that and
    Stfu.

  11. Lindsey

    November 15, 2014 at 7:03 PM

    I’m so proud of you Sujan!!!!!! You are beautiful inside and out. I love you honey you did it!!!!
    Love your big sis ;)
    Lindsey

  12. ANN

    November 30, 2014 at 10:46 AM

    Hello,
    I am happy to meet you, i want us to be friend, My name is ann, You can
    write me through my e mail here ANNBRENT25@hotmail.com I wait to hear
    from
    you soon.Kiss

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