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In a career that spans almost 40 years, Ann Meyers Drysdale became a legend at UCLA, the first woman to get an NBA contract and has two WNBA championships as GM of the Phoenix Mercury.
She recently put out the book "You Let Some Girl Beat You?" about her groundbreaking career and her never-ending love for the game of basketball.
You can currently watch her provide women's basketball commentary on NBC as Team USA continues to dominate in the 2012 Olympics in London. Here is an excerpt of her conversation, edited for length, with WNBA.com shortly before she left for London.
Aman Ali, WNBA.com: One of the things I'm really enjoying so far about the book is how deep your love for the game of basketball is. I know your brother Dave played in the NBA, but was there a particular moment or series of moments you had as a kid that you realized how much you loved this game?
Ann Meyers Drysdale: I loved to compete. Whether it be jumping rope, running stairs, and going out and playing football with my brothers, I loved to compete. My brothers and I used to wrestle as a kid, and I remember one time my brothers got me in a wrist grip. We were just goofing around and he was trying to get me to say mercy and I wouldn't. And I remember telling my son this story the other night, that I would have had my wrist broke before I gave up. The competitive nature is obviously God-given, but its the environment I grew up in. I loved to compete and when I played basketball, I played every play as hard as I could.
WNBA.com: The title of your book is "You Let Some Girl Beat You?" What inspired you to come up with the title -- was it a reference to your experiences growing up?
Meyers Drysdale: Joni Ravenna, who helped write the book, she was terrific. We threw around a couple of titles and I was a little bit uncomfortable with this one at the beginning. But Joni kept saying 'This was said a lot about you growing up, it's a great title to hang your hat on.' Now, when I talk about the book, its funny how many men, as many as women, tell me how much they love the title of the book. It's a reference that catches a lot of people's eyes.
WNBA.com: This year is the 40th anniversary of Title IX, a landmark piece of legislation that I know is near and dear to your heart. Can you talk a little bit about what this legislation means to you and where you think you'd be if it wasn't there?
Meyers Drysdale: I wouldnt be where I am today, I know that. UCLA getting a scholarship, the doors opening for the Olympics, my tryout with the Pacers, broadcasting, everything. I couldn't have asked for better timing. We still have a long way to go, no question that. But just look at the Olympics. This is the first Olympics where you're going to see more women from the U.S. competing than men. And the fact there are several Arab countries for the first time sending women. Forty years, there's a lot of history.
WNBA.com: You were the first female athlete to get a Division I scholarship. Were you aware that you were apart of a cultural change in this country where more and more people were embracing the idea of "the female athlete?"
Meyers Drysdale: As I was growing up, there was the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam and the Women's Rights movement. Change was happening, not just with women, but with the country. I guess you could say I was part of that fabric. Did I know that at the time? I was just doing my thing. I was doing what I loved to do and that was play basketball. People say I'm a pioneer, but I'm only a pioneer because the media was there to catch it. There were women knocking down doors before me.
WNBA.com: So in 1979, you get a call from the Indiana Pacers asking you to try out and you signed a contract with them. From reading your book, it seemed like you were getting barraged from so many sides about that. The Women's Basketball League was upset because they were just starting out and had drafted you so this would mean you wouldn't play for them. Then reporters hammered you left and right by dismissing your talents as a player and called you a publicity stunt. Can you walk me through how you handled that ordeal?
Meyers Drysdale: People in basketball knew who I was starting with my time at UCLA. It was people outside the game that hadn't heard about me. I didn't realize how much negativity would come from the media. They'd say things like 'You can't do that, you're a girl! You can't compete the guys, you're going to take their job.' There were so many people not familiar with me. What I was doing was nothing different. I played the game my whole life and somebody gave me an opportunity to try out for the Pacers. It was difficult from the WBL's perspective, but I made the decision inspired by something that happened to me in high school. During high school, I wanted to be on the boy's team. But I let someone talk me out of it. It just made my conviction stronger in '79 saying 'I'm not going to let people talk me out of this one. Somebody is giving me another chance.'
WNBA.com: Was it hard to focus on trying out for the Pacers when people were unfairly grilling you simply because of your gender?
Meyers Drysdale: Sure, I was disappointed. I was discouraged because they didn't respect what I was doing. But my peers knew I could play and I'm sure there were a lot of people out there saying, 'What is she doing?' But I couldn't worry about that. Certainly publicity came from my tryout, but I never went into it looking for that. That's not me. I just wanted to play basketball -- that's all I wanted to do.
WNBA.com: Adversity is a common thread throughout your life, and you faced it heavily when you became a broadcaster, because you were a female in such a male-driven world. Can you paint a picture for me on what those early experiences were like and what changed that got people to finally respect you?
Meyers Drysdale: For me initially, a lot of the criticism came more from my inexperience. I knew I was raw in the field and had a lot to learn. I would say things 'Did you see that?' on the radio. But I felt confident in who I was. I knew I had to work on it.
WNBA.com: Another thing that's worth noting is you're not just a Hall of Famer, or an accomplished broadcaster, but you're also a mom. And also a widow. Any one of the struggles you've gone through in life may have been too much for the ordinary individual. When you look back on all these challenges you've faced throughout your life, how do you think you were able to pull through these things?
Meyers Drysdale: Faith, family and friends. I do have a strong faith and I've seen my Mom go thru a lot of adversity in her life. When you have family that surrounds you and steps up to the plate, they were there when Don (her husband, legendary Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher and ABC Sports broadcaster Don Drysdale) passed away.
WNBA.com: You talk a lot in the book about your love for basketball. What keeps you involved working in the industry after all these years?
Meyers Drysdale: The game is always changing and I'm so honestly excited and proud of the WNBA today. I see girls come up through high schools and colleges talking about WNBA players that influence them. I want them to know the history too though. Of course I want them to know about Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings and Candace Parker. But they also need to know about Cynthia Cooper, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes. I tell young girls, 'Dont tell me about LeBron, Kobe, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant. You need to support women.' I feel very strongly about that and that's why the game is still important.
WNBA.com: This last question is just for fun, but the WNBA today boasts some of the best athletes the league has ever seen in its history. I'm sure you've thought about this once or twice, but how do you think some of these players would stack up against you? Is there anyone in the league right now that reminds you of how hard you played?
Meyers Drysdale: (Laughs) The fact that you're asking that question, I love. But I'm not a good person to compare players. I think when a player has accomplished something, they deserve to stand out on their own. But what I love to see in the game today is how high the skill level is. You have more players with that skill level so they're deeper on the bench. We didn't have that in my generation. I think when you got a Taurasi, a Semoine Augustus, Angel McCoughtry, they're exceptional players. But I wouldn't want to make any comparisons to them because I don't want to take away from what they accomplished.