Meyers, Ann Elizabeth
MEYERS, Ann Elizabeth
(b. 26 March 1955 in San Diego, California), pioneer in women's basketball, sports announcer, and the first female basketball player to sign a contract with a professional men's team.
Meyers was the sixth of eleven children born to Bob Meyers, an athlete, and Patricia Meyers, a homemaker, and the fourth member of her family to play organized basketball. Her father played for Marquette University in Wisconsin and for the Milwaukee Shooting Stars, and her older sister and brother played college basketball.
Although Meyers was originally most interested in track and field, she played basketball on the boys' team in the fifth and sixth grades. Because her junior high school did not have coed teams, she did not play organized basketball again until she entered high school where she played on the girls' team. She earned Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors in her freshman year at Sonora High in La Habra, California, in 1971. In her sophomore year she transferred to Connelly High School in Anaheim, where she earned MVP again. As a junior she transferred back to Sonora, where she was the team captain and MVP for the third consecutive year. In 1974, during her senior year, girls became eligible to play on the boys' team. Meyers wanted desperately to try out but was discouraged from doing so by her family and friends—a decision she said she would regret for the rest of her life. In her senior year Meyers was selected to the U.S. National girls' team, the first high school player ever to be so honored.
Meyers's record-setting basketball career continued when she entered the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in the fall of 1974. She was the first woman to receive a full basketball scholarship from UCLA, and UCLA's support of Meyers made an important and powerful statement. For a high-profile basketball program like that at UCLA to show enough confidence and respect to award a full scholarship to a woman made national news.
UCLA's confidence in Meyers was not misplaced. During her freshman year she led the Bruins in scoring, rebounds, and assists. Meyers made the All-America team in each of her four college years; she was the only freshman on the team in 1975. She led the Bruins to postseason tournaments each year, finally winning the national championship in 1978 as a senior. More than just an outstanding player, Meyers proved herself an inspirational leader as well. She set an example with a hard-work ethic that motivated her teammates.
At the end of her college career Meyers was the third leading all-time scorer at UCLA. The record was quite an accomplishment at a school whose men's team produced National Basketball Association (NBA) superstars and dominated college basketball through the 1960s and 1970s. In 1978 Meyers won the Broderick Cup, which honors the outstanding women's college basketball player of the year, and the National Association for Girls and Women in Sports recognized her as the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year. Her number 15 jersey was retired and placed in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978.
Meyers's college career also included international play. She won gold medals in the 1975 and 1979 Pan-American Games. As a member of the 1976 U.S. Olympic team, Meyers, joined by Nancy Lieberman-Cline and Patricia Summitt, won a silver medal. Meyers also competed in the 1977 World University Games, where her team placed second.
Her college basketball career over, Meyers remained at UCLA to finish her degree, graduating with a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1979. She also competed on the track team in the high jump and on the volleyball team. Then in 1979, Sam Nassi, owner of the NBA's Indiana Pacers, announced the team was signing Meyers to a free agent's contract. She is the only woman ever to try out for an NBA team. Many people criticized Meyers's signing as a publicity stunt, and the owner of the New York Knicks called the contract "disgraceful" and a "travesty."
Meyers had her share of supporters as well, including Pacer teammates Johnny Davis and Billy Knight, but despite the support she was released from her contract. Pacers coach Bob Leonard stated she had the skills but not the size (she was five feet, nine inches, and 135 pounds). According to Leonard, if she had been six inches taller and forty pounds heavier, "it would have been a different story." Meyers remained with the Pacers as a color analyst for their broadcasts.
With the formation of the Women's Basketball League (WBL) in 1978, Meyers became the top overall draft pick. She signed her second basketball contract with the New Jersey Gems in 1979. During her first year with the Gems she averaged 22.2 points per game and was voted co-MVP. In 1981 Meyers left the Gems over a contract dispute and enrolled in broadcasting school.
Meyers's broadcasting career took off during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and grew to include the American Broadcasting System (ABC), the Central Broadcasting System (CBS), the National Broadcasting System (NBC), and ESPN and ESPN2. The exposure she received in the Women's Superstars Competition, sponsored by Ladies Home Journal and WomenSports magazine, also furthered her career in television. This competition of well-known women athletes, which included softball throwing, cycling, rowing, swimming, and running events, aired on ABC during the early 1980s. Meyers won three years in a row until she was forced to retire from the competition.
In 1999 Meyers was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the new Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee, rounding out her previous elections to the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame (1985), and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1993). Given her love for sport, it was no surprise that she married another Hall of Famer, Don Drysdale, a baseball player with the Los Angeles Dodgers and a fellow broadcaster. The couple married in November 1986, becoming the first husband-and-wife Hall of Famers. They had three children before Drysdale died suddenly of a heart attack in 1993.
Meyers's contribution to basketball and women's sports has proved long-lasting and significant. The exposure she brought to the game through college, international, and professional play greatly increased public awareness of women athletes. Her string of basketball firsts paved the way for countless young female players. Her success in the male-dominated world of sports broadcasting opened that door for other women as well.
A brief biography of Meyers is in J. Kelly, Superstars of Women ' s Basketball (1997). There is also an entry on Meyers in Janet Woolum, Outstanding Women Athletes (1998). A number of basketball websites include data about Meyers; one of the best is the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame website at http://www.hoophall.com. Other sources that address Meyers's accomplishments as an athlete and a sportscaster include Mary Anne Hudson, "A Sporty Family; If Don Drysdale Jr. Takes After His Mom and Dad, He Figures To Be Natural in Basketball or Baseball," Los Angeles Times (25 Dec. 1988); and Donna Carter, "Q and A with Ann Meyers; Woman of Many Firsts Hopes Her Sports Endeavors Will Last," Los Angeles Times (20 Aug. 1989).
Lisa A. Ennis