Talking with a Time Magazine Top 10 Female Sports Pioneer Ann Meyers Drysdale, Vice President of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury
In this episode of On Record PR, guest host Jennifer Simpson Carr goes on record with Ann Meyers Drysdale, vice president of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury, a broadcaster, and a trailblazer in women’s athletics.
Born into a family of 11 children, Ann was a seven-sports athlete in high school, and a three-sport athlete at UCLA where she was the first woman to receive an athletic scholarship and the first player in Division I history — male or female — to register a quadruple-double. Ann was a member of the first U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball team in 1976, which won a silver medal.
She is a woman who paved the way for female basketball players, being the first 1st in so many ways including the first four-time All-American women’s basketball player, the #1 draft pick in the inaugural Professional Basketball League, the only woman to have a try out in the NBA, 3x winner of Women’s Super Stars and only woman to compete in the men’s Super Stars. She has been inducted in over a dozen halls of fame and Time Magazine named her as one of the Top 10 Female Sports Pioneers of all time. She was also the first woman to announce an NBA game on network television.
As a broadcaster for over 40 years, Ann covered six Olympic Games, and worked for ESPN, NBC, CBS, ABC, and other cable networks.
In 2005, Ann received the Ronald Reagan Media Award. She was married to Hall of Fame Dodger Pitcher Don Drysdale and has 3 Children with him.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: I’m so honored you’ve joined me today. I’ve had the great honor of knowing you my entire life. Like with many things, we get to a certain point in our lives, whether it’s age or life experience, where we truly understand and appreciate how special and significant certain things are. I would certainly say that having the opportunity to know you and so many incredible women athletes falls into that category for me.
Growing up, many young females were fortunate to have you and other women’s basketball players to look up to. At a time where there weren’t as many women athletes, who were your role models and athletes you aspired to be like when you were younger?
I grew up in a family of 11 children – I have five brothers and five sisters. I was born in San Diego, but we moved out to Chicago for about eight to nine years, and then we moved back to Southern California. We were always exposed to sports. My dad played basketball at Marquette, and having that many children, we were always playing outside, whether it was kick the can, football, or over the line.
My sister, Patty, is the oldest in the family and probably the best athlete. She was eight years older than me, and she was a role model for me when it came to watching her compete and play. However, the one that most often comes to mind is my mom. I’m inspired by her work ethic, ability to raise many children, keep the house in order, and drive all of us around. Watching her do her daily tasks and showing a lot of love.
As far as athletes, we didn’t see a lot of women that were on TV. That’s why my sister, Patty, was in the forefront for me as a role model, but I also watched the Olympics and looked up to Wilma Rudolph. She became not only an idol of mine, but also a dear friend. Another role model was Wyomia Tyus, and Billie Jean King in 1974, when she played Bobby Riggs. At the time, I was in high school and going into college at UCLA.
Basketball was on one day a week. It was on a Sunday, and it was the NBA. You would see the Lakers, the Celtics or the Sixers. There weren’t many teams, but I really admired games with Bill Russell and John Havlicek.
My three older brothers and my brother David, who was two years older than me, also became role models. It was more or less within my family that I saw people compete, and go out there and play hard.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: It must be an incredible experience to have such a strong, athletic family to look up to and be part of.
What was your experience like when you were young, at a time when there weren’t a lot of opportunities for women to play on sports teams? How did your family support you with opportunities to play sports?
Growing up, we went to the parochial school. We were at the Catholic schools, and we always wore our uniforms, which were dresses. We had moved to Philadelphia for about six months. At the Catholic school, my sister Patty went up to the nuns and said, “You don’t have a girls volleyball team.” She reminds me a little bit of your mom.
She saw that the girls didn’t have what the boys did, so she would approach the nuns and demand it. Patty was very much like that. She played it all. I got to watch her play basketball and volleyball, and she was always competitive. She would come home from softball games – back when they wore the satin shorts – and she’d have these big, raw raspberries on her thighs and she’d never say anything about it. One time, she got hit with a ball in her eye, and her eye was almost popping out, and she never said anything about it. She was very tough. It was admiring to see somebody like that who would fight to have girls’ sports.
I was always playing with my brothers, too. I had parents that supported their daughters playing sports as much as their sons. I would go out, get a ball and play during the playgrounds. A lot of the boys wouldn’t play with me because how dare they play with the girls? They thought the girls weren’t athletic enough and weren’t interested in sports. A lot of times in elementary school, I’d be playing by myself. Sometimes, the boys would say that there weren’t enough balls around, and they’d come play with me. In fifth and sixth grade, when we moved back out to Southern California, I went to the public schools. They had started an afterschool sports program, and it was for boys’ basketball. My parents, unbeknownst to me, had to go through the principal and the school district to get me to play on the boys’ basketball team in fifth and sixth grade. I didn’t know that. I was just playing basketball with the boys, which I always did.
There weren’t many opportunities for girls, but for me there always was because my family raised me to believe that it’s okay to play sports. One time, I was playing football with the boys at recess, and I had a teacher come up and say, “You know you can’t play football. That’s not lady like.” I didn’t know what that meant. What was “lady like?” I’m doing something I love, and other people seem to think it’s okay. Why do you not think it’s okay?
It was a learning process while growing up. When I started going down to playgrounds and playing sports, especially basketball with my brothers and their friends, you’d get boys that didn’t know who you were. You’d call the next game, and they’d say, “You’ve got to play against a girl.” I’d go home crying. My brothers would say, “You can’t tattle to mom and dad or we’re not going let you play. You have to toughen up.” To me, those were all learning processes. All of those things that happened to me at an early age helped me make decisions later in life.
I loved sports. They were fun. They made me happy. I competed hard. I was tough because my brothers and sisters made me tough. I think it was tougher for the younger kids that followed because they had to live up to the Meyers that they followed.
Being in a big family, there would be three or four of us who would come home with a ribbon from winning a race, or in swimming, track, baseball or another sport. It wasn’t just you winning your event with your team, your brothers and sisters were winning things too. My mom and dad had all these children, they had to give accolades to. As much as I thought my trophy was nice, everybody else thought their trophy was nice too. So, you go onto the next race and the next game.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: That’s incredible. You had five brothers and five sisters, and you were the middle. You were not only lifted up by your older siblings, but then you had younger siblings too. You could lead the way for them, and show them what it was like to be an athlete.
You wrote a book titled, “You Let Some Girl Beat You?” What was the inspiration for writing the book and sharing your story?
A lot of people had talked to me throughout my life about writing a book, and I didn’t think my life was that big of a deal or that important. When I lost my husband, my children were five, three, and three months at the time. They were getting a little older, and I had a lot of people saying to me, “You have to write your story.” For me, being from a big family, my story was just my story. It wasn’t that big of a deal. I thought my sister Patty’s story was just as important. But somebody wanted to help write it with me. It took me about two to three years to get it out.
There were a lot of things that I didn’t want to talk about. I’m a very private person, and I was insecure about a lot of things too. I just didn’t think people would be interested in it, but to this day, I’m glad that I did it. Unfortunately, the phrase, “You let some girl beat you?” still exists today. It exists not just through sports, but through life in a lot of ways. I think a lot of men and boys believe that if they are beaten by a girl, “how dare they.” It’s almost like their manhood has been challenged. Yet, you’re out there competing just like they are, whether it’s through sports or anything else. That’s where the title came from. It’s a phrase that for example, when I tried out with the Pacers, I felt it was more difficult on the guys than it was for me because I’d been playing basketball and sports against men and boys my whole life.
This was not what these guys were familiar with. If they block my shot, they would say, “It’s no big deal. It’s only a girl.” If I made a shot against somebody, they’d say, “You let some girl beat you.” It was a “how dare you” mentality. That’s where the title came from.
I’m glad that I wrote it. There’s a lot of things that I didn’t put in the book that are still private to me. I did it because when I lost my husband, my children were getting older, and I was also losing some siblings. I’ve lost four siblings. I looked at my mom who is this rock. Not only did she lose four children, but her husband left her after 30 years of marriage with 11 children. I saw how she has struggled through life one step at a time, and she has kept going. I thought I could talk a little bit about this person that’s been so influential. We all have struggles, and we all have adversity. Yet, she continues to move forward. I wrote the book for my family more than anything else.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: For our listeners, I want to mention that your NBA tryout was in 1979 with the Indiana Pacers. You talk about that experience in your book.
In your book, you mentioned that it was a difficult and controversial decision to try out for the Pacers. Could you tell me a little bit about why it was difficult and controversial?
It leads up five to six years before that – all through high school. In high school, my brother David was a senior when I was a freshman. I loved him, and I loved watching him play. He played with such tenacity and intensity, and he played both ends of the floor. I basically was a mini-David. My sister Patty played that way. It was just in our blood, the way we played. A lot of people watched David play. He earned a scholarship to UCLA, where he played for coach John Wooden. When I was in high school in 1972, Title IX was passed and two years later, Billie Jean King would play Bobby Riggs. This lead to the start of the Women’s Sports Foundation. Donna de Varona, Billie Jean King, and Chris Everett were instrumental in starting the foundation. My name was pretty big in Southern California through the sports that I was playing. As a matter of fact, I made the USA Basketball team during my senior year in high school, which is where I first met your mom. Going through high school, Title IX, and my sister Patty was in college playing softball at California State University, Fullerton. There were all of these little things that I was involved with in Southern California, and I played seven sports in high school.
When I was in fourth grade, which is another reason that I wrote my book, was that I read a book in fourth grade on Babe Didrikson Zaharias. This was a woman athlete that competed in the ‘32 Olympics. She played softball and basketball and was one of the original LPGA. It inspired me to go to the Olympics. There were not a lot of sports offered to young girls that were organized sports. At my time, back in the sixties and seventies, there was track and field, and swimming as organized sports. I was a track athlete, a high jumper, even though I also played softball, field hockey, tennis, badminton, volleyball, and other sports, I wanted to go into track and field. But when I transitioned from high school to college, I was able to get a scholarship at UCLA is one, Title IX had passed. I graduated from high school in 1974. In 1975, I was going to be a freshman, and I didn’t know where I was going to go to college. My brother came home one day with a guy named Kenny Washington, who had played for Coach Wooden and was on two of his national championship teams. He was going to be the women’s coach at UCLA. They came home one weekend and said, “How would you like to go to UCLA on a basketball scholarship?” That’s how it worked back then. I wasn’t recruited by 200 schools like these kids are today. Our AAU basketball was different than it is today.
Our AAU basketball was for older women who were in and out of college. You didn’t have 10-year-olds playing AAU basketball. In fact, that is the very first time I played against your mom. It was in 1971, and I think I was 15 or 16. She was already playing it at John F. Kennedy College in Nebraska. She was on an AAU team, and I was on the team in California playing with my sister Patty. That was the first time that I met her and got to know what “the tank” was like.
Things fell into place for me whether it was all of the sports I played in high school, the USA basketball team, and then going to UCLA my freshman year of college. Then,
- 1975, Pan American Games
- 1976, Summer Olympics
- 1977, World University Games
- 1978, AIAW National Large College Basketball Championship
You have to be an amateur to go to the Olympics, so I wanted to stay amateur for the 1980 Olympics. It was important to me to stay amateur, even though I had been the number one pick in the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL), which was the very first year they had women’s professional basketball.
All of a sudden, we get back from Russia as part of the Spartakaid games and I get a call from Sam Nassi, who was the new owner of the Indiana Pacers. He asked, “How would you like to try out in the NBA?” My brother David was already playing in the NBA. During his senior year in 1975, that was the last year UCLA won a championship with Coach Wooden, and my brother was the captain of that team. He went on to be the number one draft pick of the Lakers and was in the trade that sent him to the Milwaukee Bucks with three other guys, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went to the Lakers.
Getting back to high school, when I played on the USA basketball team, a lot of that happened because I had wanted to play on the boys’ basketball team. In the summer of my junior and senior year I has played on the boys’ summer league team all summer long. I thought I would play on it during the school year too. When you’re in high school, you have a lot of things said about you, and you’re going through a lot of changes emotionally and physically. So, I had a lot of people talk me out of it when I was in high school. But I always say, “One door closes and another one opens.” Even though I did not make it on the boys’ basketball team because many people talked me out of it, the USA basketball team happened. When Sam Nassi called five years later for the Indiana Pacers, I look back on my high school days and said, “People talked me out of it.” I wasn’t going to let people talk me out of it on this level.
When I was at UCLA, I was David Meyer’s little sister. It was a human-interest story. He and I received a lot of exposure in Southern California. As I got older, and went to the Olympics to represent the United States, I’d received a lot more. I also played volleyball and ran track at UCLA. I had a lot of positive things said about me in Southern California. But, when I signed this contract, the coach from the Indiana Pacers was not happy about it and tried to talk me out of it. A lot of people tried to talk me out of it. I said I wasn’t going to get talked out of it because I looked back at my life during high school when people did talk me out of it and I wasn’t going to let that happen again.
It was a hard decision because I wanted to go to the 1980 Olympics and represent our country again. In 1976, we won the silver medal, and it was such a great feeling to be an Olympian representing my country, wearing USA on my chest, and seeing our flag go up, so I wanted to do that again. But things were changing. I made the decision, which was very, very difficult because I was a captain of the USA team, and I was trying to take your mom’s direction. When I made the decision several days later, president Jimmy Carter boycotted the Olympics. It was heartbreaking for me because my teammates and every other athlete had trained so hard, and this was being taken away from them.
It was a difficult decision, but this was an opportunity of a lifetime. My brother was playing in the NBA. I knew a lot of guys in the NBA. Was this a challenge? Yes, but I looked back five years before in high school. I said, “I’m not going to let it happen again.” As difficult as it was, it was the best decision ever made in my life. Not just professionally but personally, because that’s how I met my husband, Don Drysdale.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: I want to thank you for taking that step and deciding to try out despite all the people who tried to talk you out of it. For the women who came before us, who took those steps it just meant more opportunities as we as young women came after you. You have many firsts, which I read about during your intro.
In the midst of people trying to talk you out of your NBA try out, how did you find the courage to stand behind your decision, and how did you motivate yourself every day? I can imagine that it must’ve been challenging mentally to have people try to talk you out of something that you were so proud of, and a decision that was difficult for you to make. How did you get through that adversity?
Family. There’s no question about it. I was pretty insecure as a kid and was very quiet, but I got stronger through representing our country in the Olympics and being on different teams. I became strong from having different people in my life that were also strong. People like your mom because she was an influence too. I look back, and I think about the press conference that Sam Nassi and Slick Leonard called. I didn’t know what a press conference was. I wasn’t comfortable with the press conference. We did it in Los Angeles and growing up in Southern California, and then going to UCLA, I was well-liked, and I thought people respected me.
The media, the cameras, and the journalists were very attacking. They would say, “You can’t compete against these men. You’re going to take a job from them. What are you thinking? You’re not strong enough. You’re not tall enough. You’re not big enough. You’re going to get hurt. You’re not good enough.” I’m having these people telling me these things, but I thought I was good enough. I’ve trained. Somebody asked me to do it. Whether it was publicity or not, in my eyes, I was doing something that maybe I was training my whole life for. Who knew that this opportunity would happen, and I did look at it as an opportunity. I was graduating from UCLA, and I was going to make $50,000, which was a lot of money at that time and I still think is a lot of money.
A minimum salary was three to four times more in the NBA for a player. If you compared the average salary at that time, offering me $50,000 didn’t even come close. Yet for me, as a woman graduating from UCLA, that was a lot of money. My brother Mark, who was an attorney, was protecting me and handled the contract. He knew what he was doing. He knew the language. My brother David playing in the NBA had talked to him quite a bit. He was apprehensive, but he was supportive. He never said, “No, don’t do it,” but I could tell he was concerned for me but he was also supporting me.
I talked to my family and others who were positive around me, like your mom Juliene Simpson, who was a strong woman. And she had also gone through a lot of adversity with the car accident and with different jobs that she had to take. She was always positive and never doubted anything. I think having those people helped me stay motivated. Thank goodness I didn’t grow up today with social media, technology and computers. We had radio, TV, and print. We didn’t even have these sports outlets. There’s many different sports outlets nowadays.
Before I got to Indianapolis, they hooked me up with Sandy Knapp, who was the head of public relations for the Indiana Pacers. She was wonderful. They wanted me to do some press, so I had to fly back to New York and be on the morning shows. Spencer Haywood was on one of the shows, and he was supportive. He was questioning what was going on, but he was supportive. Sandy came with me to set up everything. I’m five-foot nine, and Sandy is six feet, so a lot of people thought that Sandy was the one trying out for the Pacers.
A lot of people looked at me like “you can’t do this.” I was doing these news junkets, and I was frustrated because it took me away from playing basketball and getting ready. When I made my decision to try out for the Pacers, once I made the decision to leave the USA team, which was a very difficult decision because Sue Gunter was going to be the head coach of the 1980 Olympic team, and I adored her. She was a coach at LSU and our assistant coach with Billie Moore on the 1976 Olympic team. It was very difficult to walk away and to tell her that I had made a decision that I was going to turn pro, not in the WBL, but with the NBA.
I had to start training. My brother, Jeff, who was two years younger than me, helped me do that. I did play a lot of pickup games, but mentally he helped me. Physically, he was very rough with me and would say things to me like, “You can’t do that. You’ve got to do this. If you get your shot blocked, this is what you have to do.” He was instrumental for about a month to get me ready for coming to the free agent rookie camp. I was not drafted. I was signed as a free agent. It’s a lot different today than it was when I tried out.
We had two practices a day. We went through the three days, and I had six practices. I was holed up in my hotel room. I did not watch TV, listen to the radio, or look at a newspaper. I would call home a lot and talked to my mom, my sisters, and my brothers. I also talked to friends that were close and people that were positive.
A lot of us go through doubt in every stage of our lives. We doubt things that we do and say. We ask ourselves, “Should I have done that? Should I have said that?” We might wish we hadn’t, but one thing is for certain – I never wished that I did not try out, even though people were saying things about me. I didn’t understand why they were so negative. This was something that I had been doing my whole life. That’s why I chose not to interact as much as I could. It was tough, and it was lonely, but it was something that I had committed to. I couldn’t wait to get out on the floor and just play basketball.
You’re now the vice president of the Phoenix Suns and the Phoenix Mercury. You mentioned that something you want people to know about working with you is that you try to be a good teammate for the success of others. I’m a true believer in the phrase, “A rising tide lifts all ships.” The more that we can lift each other up and celebrate each other’s victories allows our professions and industries to continue moving forward. What does it mean to you to be a good teammate in business and in life?
Many times, ego can get in the way, but we’re all pulling for the same thing. I think I go back to my family. When you have so many kids in the family who gets the credit? Well, everybody. Everybody contributed in some way. Being at UCLA, I played for three different coaches. I played for Kenny Washington, Ella Moser, and Billie Moore, who was our Olympic coach in 1976.
Being around Coach Wooden with my brother David meant a lot. His pyramid of being competitive and success influenced me as a person in my life. Success is peace of mind in knowing you did your best to become the best that you’re capable of becoming. That’s success. A lot of people think it’s about winning. He never talked about winning. His success is doing your best and then going through the pyramid. I also think that having those people in my life and their influence was positive. When you get into the business world, when I first came to Phoenix in 2007, as the general manager for the Phoenix Mercury, I worked with two wonderful women – Jay Parry, who was our CEO of the Mercury, and Amber Cox, who was our public relations person. She is now the vice president of the Connecticut Sun. We had this great teamwork, and I messed up a lot. I would make decisions on my own sometimes. Jay would call me in and say, “Listen, we have to do this together. You have to communicate this and that.” It’s always a learning process and communication is important. I learned through a lot of mistakes, and still make a lot of mistakes. People are going to question what you do.
During my first year as general manager, the Phoenix Mercury had the number one pick in the WNBA. Paul Westhead was our coach. He played a certain style, and we already had players in place. We have the number one pick coming out. He said, “I don’t need any of those kids that are coming out.” We ended up making a trade. We traded our number one pick. This was the very first time that this had happened, trading away a number one pick. We traded for Tangela Smith, who had played with the Sacramento Monarchs and Charlotte Sting. She was the key. She was a key in winning two championships for us with Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor and Cappie Pondexter. We some wonderful players on our team. Paul Westhead did such a great job with the players he needed. You don’t always pick the best people. You pick the people that work best together. That’s what he did as a coach, and that’s what we tried to do as a staff. As vice president with the Suns and the Mercury, I try and find out what can I do best to help and be a part of a successful organization. I think everybody is important.
Coach Wooden would say that when Bill Walton was there playing with my brother, David. People all said Bill Walton is the greatest player. But he would say that he may be the engine, but who’s going to start the car? Who’s going to drive it? There are all these other different parts that are not just the other four players on the court, but all the other players that are on the bench. I remember Coach Wooden would say when Alcindor was there, “you can average 30-plus points or you can win championships.” I think Alcindor averaged close to 30 points, and they won three championships.
It’s including everybody and making everybody feel inclusive. When I go to speak at basketball camps, or even when I’m at corporations, I say, “don’t ever think that what you do is insignificant.” If you are the 12th player on a team, don’t think that you’re insignificant. You practice just as hard as anybody else. You may not get the minutes, but what you do out on the court, you are still a key component of what this team is all about. You have to be ready because your time may come when you least expect it and you have to be prepared. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. I think that’s the same way in a company. If you don’t prepare for something, then you’ll never know.
For example, I’m broadcasting for 40-plus years. Dick Enberg used to say, “Get your homework done, and find out as much information as you can about a player. If you never have to use 10% of it, you know you’ve done a good job and the game has called itself. But you have to be prepared to know that if that game gets out of hand, you’ve got to look for information. If you don’t have it, then where do you go?” As a broadcaster, you’d have to be prepared with your notes.
Women’s basketball has come so far. What do you enjoy most about watching the game of women’s basketball today?
I love the fact that there is a league, and I love the fact that these young women are not only playing, but they are working at a job that they love, which is not work to them. I think the women have had to play overseas for a long time to compensate for the salaries in this league. From day one, I had always hoped that the WNBA would be the number one league over the European league. That way, if they made enough money here, they wouldn’t have to play overseas. Hopefully, that’s going to change. The WNBA is in its 24th season and I’m hoping to see it at 50 years.
I love the voice that these women have. Especially now with Black Lives Matter and racial injustice, social injustice, LGBTQ, women are speaking up. They’re speaking up for Breonna Taylor and many other black women and men that have lost their lives, as well as Latinos, Asians and other individuals of color. This society has to change, and the WNBA has been in the forefront. These women have spoken out, even though they don’t make the same money that the NBA does. There’s no question that the NBA has been supportive of getting the WNBA going. If I look back at the WBL in ’78 and ‘79, when it first started, the average salary was between $6,000 to $7,000. Although, I think the salaries could range from $6,000 to $15,000. That was for the very first year. We were just happy that there was a league because the European leagues really didn’t exist then. They were just beginning. Just to play basketball, we were getting paid just $5,000 to $6,000 to play basketball. For my tryout, I was getting $50,000, which significantly changed things in the WBL. That first year of the WBL hardly received any recognition. But, when I signed my contract in the NBA, the WBL came out. Even though I was the number one pick in the WBL by the Houston Angels, I didn’t go to the league because I wanted to stay amateur for the 1980 Olympics. Then, things changed with the Pacers. They said, “Meyers is too old. The game has passed her by.” I think I was 24 years old at the time. And, “We have 10 players that are better than her.” I was offended at the time, not knowing that this was their way of getting recognition. They were getting media attention by doing this because I had gotten so much attention with my tryout with the Pacers. I look back and totally understand that now.
When I signed my contract with the Pacers — did not make the team, but I had a personal service contract. I was doing public relations and broadcasting, but I was 24, and I wanted to play. I was in great shape. I was only with the Pacers for about two and a half months. They released me from my contract, and the Angels traded my rights to the New Jersey Gems. I went to the New Jersey Gems and played that season, but I also had committed to something called the Women’s Superstars that I had been invited to, when I was with my tryout with the Pacers. I had a commitment to compete in the Women’s Superstars, which was a made-for-TV event that they had for the men also.
I was playing basketball for the New Jersey Gems, and I’d go down to The Bahamas and compete. I came in fourth, which I was not happy about. I was indoors playing basketball. I was not ready for competing in the sun for two days, and I came in fourth. However, I met the love of my life, Don Drysdale, who was broadcasting with Bob Uecker for ABC sports. That changed my life completely. We got to go to the All-Star Game. I was the MVP of the league with Molly Bolin, who played for the Iowa Cornets. Then, I didn’t play the third year of the league, which would have been the second year of my contract, because they hadn’t paid me all my money. So, I was making a stand.
I recall my first year of playing, which was the second year of the league, and we were playing New Orleans in Tulane. I remember that the owners were saying, “We’re going to fly into New Orleans, and we’ll get there about one o’clock. We don’t have a hotel for you.” I was going around the plane saying to the teammates, “We need to get a hotel. I’ll pay for it.” The room was probably a hundred bucks, which was a lot of money to a lot of the players. I said, “We’re not going to walk around New Orleans for four hours before our game!” So, we ended up getting two rooms. I don’t know if the owners were happy with me. I even talked about having a players’ union, and players were intimated by that. They didn’t want to go against the owners. There were a lot of struggles with the League the very first couple of years. Who would’ve thought the third year that the league would fold. Then, they started a couple other leagues after that like the ABL, which again, lasted about three years. The, the WNBA came into existence after the ‘96 Olympics.
I tried to change a lot of things, and I was probably a little bit of an outlaw by speaking up, because women weren’t supposed to speak up. We were still called girls and yet we were women. We were professional women trying to make a living. We felt that we were being treated like little girls and like we didn’t know how to make decisions. It was all a learning process for a lot of people, but I think it was a great process to see where the WNBA is today. These women today not only have a voice, but just the way they play the game – the ball handling, the jumping ability, the shots that they take, the competitiveness, the ability to be able to rise to that level.
And the opportunity to play a sport even such a young age now with the AAUs starting as young as 8 or 10 years old. They’re playing in whatever their respective sport is, whether it’s soccer, volleyball, track, basketball, etc. Basketball does give a lot of these young girls hope to not only play the game, but whether you’re a broadcaster, a journalist, a trainer, a masseuse, a general manager, a coach, or assistant coach, there’s many different avenues to take. We’ve seen more woman journalists today, not just only in front of the camera, but behind the camera, whether you’re a producer, a director, or a camera person. There’s so many other jobs that give women the opportunity to stay involved with sports.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: I think it’s so important that our youth have the opportunity to see people that look like them and sound like them in various positions and in different parts of athletics, so that they can look ahead and aspire to be like those individuals one day.
Ann Meyers Drysdale: The fact that you have so many women in the WNBA that are mothers, and their sons and daughters get to see their mothers play a professional sport is wonderful. Seeing them play basketball is a big plus.
I go back to the very first year in 1997, when the league started with Teresa Weatherspoon, who played for the New York Liberty and at Louisiana Tech, had gone overseas as an ‘88 Olympian, and is in the Naismith Hall of Fame. She was an incredibly dynamic player. She wore number 11 for the New York Liberty. I remember being in Huntington Beach, California, walking down Main Street, and there was a little boy, probably about 10 to 12 years old. He had a Teresa Weatherspoon number 11, New York Liberty jersey on, and I thought, “Wow!”
You have people like Cynthia Cooper and Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes of the Houston Comets, and Rebecca Lobo in New York, and Lisa Leslie with the LA Sparks. To see young girls and boys wearing these jerseys back in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and certainly, we want to see that today. We want to see the Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, Arike Ogunbowale and Elena Delle Donne, and now these young, unbelievably talented kids, whether it be Sabrina Ionescu who’s hurt right now, or Chennedy Carter, who’s having a fantastic year in Atlanta, and Angel McCoughtry, A’ja Wilson. The list goes on and on. These young women, you can tell stories about them and show them on TV, but they’re not being shown enough.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: I wish that that was not the case. I thank you and all of those women because every first step that you took and that others have taken, have opened doors for women like me, who played after you, and young women, like my daughter. At five years old, I am so proud to be able to show her a WNBA. Basketball might not be her sport, but women who are playing the game that they love, as you said, but also women like you who played the game you love, and who are now impacting sports in a different way. Not only as a broadcaster, but as VP of an NBA and a WNBA team. I want to thank you for all the contributions that you made and for everything that you sacrificed so that the generations behind you had more opportunities.
Thank you so much for joining me today. I cannot tell you how honored I am to have you as a guest on our show. I am sure the listeners enjoyed hearing about you, your experience and your story. If people want to reach out to you and get in touch after the podcast, where can they get in touch with you?
They can tweet me @AnnMeyers, and they can go to http://annmeyersdrysdale.com/.
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