LOS CLASSIC: Ann Meyers Drysdale

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Ann Meyers Drysdale set herself apart by being the best and“the first” for four decades. Meyers Drysdale was the first high school player on the U.S. National Basketball team and one of the first starters on the U.S/ Women’s Olympic Basketball team in 1976. She was the first female athlete granted a four-year scholarship after the passing of Title IX. She led the UCLA women’s basketball team to a national championship in her senior year and became the first four-year All-American. She was the first draft pick in the first women’s professional league, the WBL, with the New Jersey Gems in 1978. In 1979, with the Indiana Pacers, she was the first and only woman to this day to sign an NBA contract. She later continued her legacy in professional sports as the first woman NBA color analyst. Today, she leads the Phoenix Suns and Mercury as a broadcaster and Vice President. She had a massive support system through all the firsts and credits her large (11 children) family for her work ethic.

“Our parents did encourage their daughters to play sports as much as their sons… So the competitiveness was there because we were always playing sports,” Meyers Drysdale said.

Meyers Drysdale is a trailblazer and role model for women basketball players and all athletes. She is grateful for her “gender-blind” upbringing but believes there is still work to be done. She discussed the need to highlight female athletic role models.

“I wanna hear about [inspirations from] Diana Taurasi, and Candace Parker, and Jewell Lloyd, and Sue Bird… I think our basketball community on the women’s side needs to do a better job,” Meyers Drysdale said.  

“We have some amazing women athletes whether in soccer… volleyball, surfing, skateboarding, there’s women out there doing this and we need to expose them [so they] say ‘these are the role models that we need to look to.’…” But they’re saying ‘young girls didn’t have posters.’ I had a poster! I was fortunate enough that I had a poster at UCLA,” 

Meyers Drysdale also discussed progress in the WNBA in their advocacy.

“Certainly I think the WNBA [has women]… giving them credibility as far as their voice [in racial and gender equality] whether it be Candace Parker on TNT… Chine Ogwumike on ESPN,” Meyers Drysdale said. “Now it seems like that there’s a support system for [women]…. Women need to support women.”

Meyers Drysdale was brave in the face of challenges and controversy. In her honest, powerful autobiography, “You Let Some Girl Beat You,” she repeats that she never set out to be a trailblazer. She made the most of every opportunity, including the 1979 Pacers contract, which led to a pre-season training camp and a future in sports broadcasting.

“I wasn’t doing it for publicity. I was doing it because somebody gave me a chance,” Meyers Drysdale said. “If I had made the team it wouldn’t have been so much about… what was going on on the court, it was all the stuff all the court… innuendos. I wouldn’t have gotten any minutes… back then you could only carry 11 [people on a roster]… At training camp…I had to isolate myself because you couldn’t afford to even start any kind of rumor.”

Though Meyers Drysdale was a brave and powerful player, she was incredibly soft-spoken, making her decades-long career in broadcasting all the more impressive. She began a long with NBC, TNT, CNN, and ESPN through a series of coincidences and hard work.

“I ended up taking a [broadcasting] class at UCLA… three quarters in a row… [at first] I didn’t wanna be in front of the camera because I was still pretty uncomfortable getting interviewed by the media… Professor Friedman really… changed the direction of my life… because he made it fun, he made me come out a little bit and have a little bit of confidence,” Meyers Drysdale said.

“When my tryout was, with the Pacers in 1979… was the very first year of ESPN. So during that course, as I’m transitioning out of playing, certainly into broadcasting, we didn’t have a lot of women. So I did softball for them, I did volleyball for them, I did basketball for them, I did men’s basketball,” Meyers Drysdale said. “My first job really as a broadcaster was at the University of Hawaii… it was a great place to make a lot of mistakes… away from the mainland… I had to learn and get better”

Meyers Drysdale was raised by a strong and supportive family. Her husband, iconic baseball player Don Drysdale, passed away in 1993 while their children were young. Meyers Drysdale persevered in her family life and career to create the same nurturing environment for her children.

“I [got through it] through faith, family, and friends… I knew I had to get up for them and push forward,” Meyers Drysdale said.

Ann Meyers Drysdale, a Naismith Hall of Famer, through a combination of coincidence, work ethic, and empowered vision, was always “the first”. But her legacy ensures that she is not the last.

“You know I tell people all the time ‘don’t look back and say what if’…. Somebody gives you an opportunity, go ahead and take it.”

Hear more about Meyer Drysdale’s powerful backstory, takes on the basketball legends of yesterday and today, and opinions on the future of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury on her classic episode of the Legends of Sport podcast with Andy Bernstein.

 

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