Dave Meyers, the star player on John Wooden’s 10th and final national championship basketball team at UCLA, died Friday at his home in Temecula after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 62.
Meyers played on two Bruins national title teams, as a reserve in 1973 and as the star player in ’75.
After that ’75 season, the 6-foot-8 Meyers was named a consensus All-American and became the second pick in the NBA draft. He was taken by the Lakers. David Thompson from North Carolina State was the first pick.
Nineteen days after the NBA draft, Meyers was part of perhaps the biggest trade in league history. He was sent by the Lakers, along with Junior Bridgeman, Brian Winters and Elmore Smith, to the Milwaukee Bucks for Walt Wesley and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Meyers, who was born in San Diego in 1953, was one of 11 children of Bob and Pat Meyers. Bob was a basketball star at Marquette University in Milwaukee in the mid-1940s, but eventually settled his family in Southern California.
Another member of the Meyers family gained fame in the sport. Ann Meyers Drysdale, Dave Meyers’ sister, was also a UCLA basketball All-American and is currently a vice president of the Phoenix Suns in the NBA and the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, as well as a broadcaster for both teams.
“People always remembered Dave as a tenacious player with a big heart,” Meyers Drysdale said Friday.
Meyers was also known as a private person, who shocked the sports world in 1980 — five years into a productive and lucrative pro career with the Bucks — by announcing that he was leaving the NBA to spend more time with his family.
“Remember, David played for an unbelievable teacher at UCLA,” Meyers Drysdale said, referring to Wooden. “He was taught more about life than about basketball.”
Meyers returned to California, and after a stint in sales for Motorola received his teaching certificate and taught elementary school — mostly fourth and sixth grade — for more than 30 years. He began teaching in Yorba Linda and later taught in Temecula.
An aggressive, fundamentally sound player, he rebounded, played defense and handed out assists with the same enthusiasm that he took shots. From his power forward position, he used the backboard on his shots more than most players and became known for those skillful bank shots. It was something he learned from Wooden.
“I’d run into Bob Lanier,” the former Bucks’ star, Meyers Drysdale said, “and he would always tell me how sad he was that David retired. Lanier always said that, if he had stayed, the Bucks would have won the championship.
Meyers suffered a serious back injury during his pro career and was pressured by team management to undergo surgery. He refused, partly because that surgery went against principles of his Jehovah’s Witness religion and, according to Meyers Drysdale, partly because there were extreme risks to that kind of surgery.
“In the end, it was what he said it was,” Meyers Drysdale said. “He wanted to be with his family and watch his children grow up.”
His teammate at UCLA, Marques Johnson, once referred to Meyers as a “gentle, compassionate guy.”
He was also one of the least interviewed, least self-promoting players in NBA history. He never was comfortable in the spotlight.
On that final Wooden NCAA title team, Meyers scored 24 points and took down 11 rebounds in the title game in San Diego against Kentucky. It was after UCLA’s semifinal that Wooden had told his team their game against Kentucky would be his last game as a coach.
In March, that 1975 UCLA team was honored in a public ceremony and Meyers, already battling his cancer, was able to attend.
“Everybody was so happy to see him,” Meyers Drysdale said, “and we were so happy that he had the energy to do it.”
Besides his sister Ann, Meyers is survived by his wife of 40 years, Linda; daughter Crystal; and son Sean. His other survivors include his mother, Pat, and siblings Patty Meyers, Mark Meyers, Cathy Meyers, Jeff Meyers, Susan Meyers, Coleen Lindsey and Bobby Meyers.
No funeral arrangements or memorial service plans have been finalized.