If the Women's Basketball League (WBL) is to survive its embryonic years, it is going to have to have more players like Ann Meyers. Meyers is not just a highly paid star, who can score for her New Jersey Gems. The four-time All-American from UCLA is exciting to watch. She can shoot, rebound, and pass, is quick, plays aggressive defense and, most important, is a winner.
"Like any professional league, it's going to take two to three years to know where we're going," Meyers said of the league, in its second year. "Some teams have not made it, but ours is financially secure. If there are any financial difficulties in the league, I don't know about them."
Meyers' abilities earned her a historic $130,000, three-year contract in the WBL, while the average player makes about $7,000 per year. Meyers leads the Gems in average points per game (23.3), assists (4.5) and steals (4.3), and is second in rebounding (9.1). Meyers made sports history earlier in the season when she became the first woman to try out for the National Basketball Association. The Indiana Pacers recruited the 5 ft. 9 in., 134-pound Meyers, offering a $50,000 guaranteed contract.
"The Pacers made an offer I couldn't refuse. I was as shocked as anybody," the 24-year-old California native said. "I had been basing everything on the Olympics -- qualifying for the team, trying to win a gold or silver medal, and then maybe signing with the WBL.I just didn't see things going that way and decided I couldn't be an amateur forever."
Meyers, denying her stint with the Pacers was a publicity stunt, calls her tryout a sincere attempt to pursue one of her lifetime goals. She was cut from the Pacers and assumed a job in public relations, doing color commentary.
"I guess I set my goals too high in thinking I could make it as an NBA player , but after doing some broadcasting, I realized I missed playing," said Meyers, who shoots right-handed but writes left-handed. "The WBL is a comedown skill-wise, but playing ball is what I enjoy most."
A member of a large family -- she has 11 brothers and sisters who range in age from 10 to 32 -- Meyers first played basketball in second grade.
Her sports-oriented family has been instrumental and supportive of her career. Her father, Bob, played basketball for Marquette University. Ann was the third Meyers child to capture All-America honors, following in the footsteps of her sister, Patty, and brother, Dave.
Ann became the Orange County family's second professional basketball player behind Dave, now with the Milwaukee Bucks. Her brother, Mark, is an attorney and helped negotiate her contracts with the Pacers and the Gems.
Meyers is used to being in the forefront. Following a dazzling basketball career at LaHabra High School, where she also played volleyball, tennis, softball, track, field hockey and badminton, Meyers became the first woman at UCLA to receive a full, four-year athletic scholarship. She went on to captain the 1977-1978 team to the national championship of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.
Meyers played for the national team that traveled all over the world and won a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics, plus a gold in the 1975 and a silver in the 1979 Pan American Games. She was selected by her fellow athletes to carry the flag in front of the US contingent in last summer's Pan Am Games in Puerto Rico.
The WBL began its second season with 14 teams in three divisions. The Washington Metros and Philadelphia Foxes have folded their franchises. The Gems draw an average crowd of 1,000 spectators at $6 per seat.
"People look at the crowd figures and say we're not financially sound," Meyers said. "L.A. [the California Dreams] draws only 100 to 200 people, but they're secure. Women's sports will keep progressing."
Meyers was the first big name to sign with the WBL, but owners hope to lure other standouts from their amateur status next year.
"I'm fortunate enough to be doing a job I'm enjoying," Meyers said. "This is my living now. It puts bread and butter on the table, but I'm still playing for fun."
Meyers leads a hectic, nomadic life, living out of a motel room close to both her home court and the airport. She soon will be appearing in her first advertising endeavor, a television commercial for soft drinks.
A 1978 college graduate with a bachelor's degree in sociology, Meyers eventually hopes to be a sportscaster, a career that she got a brief glimpse of while with the Pacers.
"I want to prolong my basketball career. I take care of myself and do nothing that might cut my career short," the personable guard said. "I like the intensity and competitiveness of basketball and will play it as long as I can. In the meantime, I'm getting experience speaking and am making contacts that I may be able to use when I give up the game."