ORANGE COUNTY SPORTS HALL OF FAME: THE NEW INDUCTEES : Courting a New Career : Meyers Tries to Re-Establish Herself as Broadcaster

Times Staff Writer

Ann Meyers, newlywed, is spending a Friday evening surrounded by her favorite things: The screech of rubber soles on hardwood floors, the flash of glistening bodies in graceful flight and the smell of . . . well, you know the smell.

Her husband, Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale, is home at Rancho Mirage, but Meyers isn't lonely. Members of her family--she was the fifth of 11 children--are sprawled across the stands in Marina High School's gym, cheering for Ann's nephew, Mike Meyers, the Vikings' starting guard.

Meyers' eyes are on the court, but her mind wanders to another time and another gym . . .

John Kuester was just trying to keep his job. The Indiana Pacer guard was a half-foot taller and 50 pounds heavier than the free agent playing opposite him in training camp, but that didn't stop him from driving to the basket . . . and driving her into the basket support.

The free agent was Meyers, the only woman signed to a National Basketball Assn. contract.

"Everyone's going for a job and she understands that," Kuester told a cluster of reporters after knocking Meyers to the floor a couple of times that day. "She's a fine player and seems used to contact. My impression is that she just wants to play."

Meyers wanted to play in the NBA more than anything else. She wanted to play in the NBA so much, she convinced herself that she could.

There were more than a few chuckles when Pacers' owner Sam Nassi announced in 1979 that he had signed Meyers to a one-year contract. And there were a lot of told-you-so smiles when she was cut after three days.

It may have been viewed as a public relations gimmick by most in professional basketball, but to Meyers it represented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"It's something I'll cherish for the rest of my life," she said, applauding a steal by her nephew. "And it was one of the best moves I've ever made. It was a chance most men never get. Mentally and physically, I was in the best shape I've ever been to play basketball. I felt I could hold my own.

"But looking back, I literally could have gotten maimed."

There's no doubt that Meyers, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of athlete, got involved with the wrong sport. If she had started playing golf or tennis as a youngster, she probably would have been a huge success.

But when you're born into a family that makes the Brady Bunch's house seem empty, greens fees and tennis lessons are out of the question.

"It'd be great to be playing tennis or golf and making a lot of money, but we couldn't afford that stuff," Meyers said.

So, she played nearly every other sport. Meyers competed in basketball, softball, volleyball, field hockey, track and field and badminton every year at La Habra's Sonora High School.

She excelled in all of them, but basketball was her greatest success. Meyers was the first woman to earn a full athletic scholarship to UCLA, helped the 1976 U.S. Olympic women's basketball team win a sliver medal and then signed for $50,000 with the Pacers. She later signed a three-year, $130,000 contract with the New Jersey Gems of the Women's Basketball League, but she didn't receive much of the money because the league folded.

No woman played better, but Meyers was a star without a stage.

That changed after network executives came up with the idea for the television show "Superstars."

"Thank God for 'Superstars,' " said Meyers, who won the women's title three times in four years. "The first year (1979), I finished fourth. Then I started training for it. I trained six to eight hours every day--running, swimming, playing tennis, hitting golf balls and lifting weights--and I won the next three straight."

Climbing over walls and crawling through pipes may be OK for Marines in boot camp, but this was hardly the life she envisioned as an athlete.

But it was a living nonetheless. If ABC hadn't decided to retire all two-time winners after 1983, Meyers might have made a lot more than the $125,000 she earned in four years.

And, she was the best again. She was a professional athlete . . . and no one was laughing at her.

Though Meyers' time with the Pacers was short-lived, she faced a lot of criticism for it. Feminists called her NBA experience a promotional gimmick. A United Press International poll ranked her signing as No. 1 on the Bottom 3 sports stories of 1979.

Yet, there were rewards. She received the guaranteed $50,000, and also discovered a new career.

Meyers got her first experience with sports broadcasting when she served as a commentator for 12 Pacers' games in '79, before signing with the Gems. A year later, she was the analyst for broadcasts of the University of Hawaii men's basketball team. Since then, she has covered the 1984 Olympics and the Goodwill Games.

Broadcasting is a fickle business, though, and Meyers, 32, recently has struggled to find good jobs. She's doing commentary for Sportsvision, a Chicago-based cable firm that televises Northwestern, Northern Illinois and University of Illinois at Chicago sporting events.

She will work 34 men's basketball games this season, but commuting between Rancho Mirage and Chicago means she'll lose money on the deal.

"Sometimes, you would think you'd be done paying dues," she said. "I think I have more experience than a lot of the guys doing color (commentary) these days. These jobs are sort of a revolving-door thing now. You know, whichever coach is fired or whichever player retires next. It's male-oriented, too, and that makes it doubly tough.

"But I can't complain. Sportsvision is giving me experience and good exposure."

She's getting some expert advice from Drysdale, a veteran sportscaster who will begin his sixth year as the voice of the Chicago White Sox this spring. It was during the filming of the first "Superstars" that she met Drysdale, who was broadcasting the event. They were married last November.

Meyers was too busy shooting baskets in the driveway to pay attention to baseball as youngster. She had never heard of Drysdale when they met in 1979.

"I thought he was Don Meredith," she said.

But as soon as they started dating, she began to realize his popularity.

"The thing that always gets me is that no matter where we go, people from little kids to 80 years old want his autograph," she said. "Then in 1984, when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, I began to understand what kind of impact he had on baseball."

Meyers will be inducted into the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame Monday night. It may not be as prestigious as the one in Cooperstown, but it's a tribute to a woman who dared to be first.

ANN MEYERS

Age: 32.

Hometown: La Habra.

Residence: Rancho Mirage.

Accomplishments:

First prep basketball player to make a U.S. international team.

First woman to receive a full athletic scholarship to UCLA.

Four-time All-American at UCLA. Starting guard on U.S. women's basketball team that won a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics.

Only woman to sign an NBA contract.

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