Ann Meyers Drysdale Epitomizes Working Mothers
He wanted her to broadcast Chicago Bulls games during the heyday of the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen era.
Meyers Drysdale is a basketball legend. The first high school player to play on the U.S. National team. The first woman to be offered a full-ride scholarship at UCLA. The first woman to sign a contract with an NBA team. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.
At that point, however, she was also a widow with three children under the age of 6 whose in-laws had moved into her Southern California home to help, whose large family -- including five brothers and five sisters -- had closed in around her.
"The Bulls had just won the (NBA) championship two years in a row," Meyers Drysdale said. "The offer was for a huge amount of money that I was not making. So my decision was, 'Do I move the kids to Chicago?' "
She knew she was committing to living in a new city without the family support she had in Southern California. She knew she would be at the arena every day by 5 p.m. and not home until after midnight.
She knew she would be in for long seasons, because the Bulls routinely played long after the NBA's 82-game schedule ended.
And she said no.
She said no to radio jobs and television jobs that would keep her away from her kids for long stretches. She's declined coaching job offers. She passed on extended road trips and opportunities to move her family to a new city.
Yet Meyers Drysdale has had a fruitful career. She's called NBA games and NCAA Championship games and Olympic events for CBS, NBC and ESPN.
Meyers Drysdale is now the general manager of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and a vice president for the Phoenix Suns. But that success has not completely tamped down the guilt, the kind that many working mother's know. Never feeling like you are at the right place, or doing a good enough job.
She said she still looks at some of her male compatriots in the NBA, some of whom are away from their families for months at a time. And she thinks of the wife and mother at home raising the kids while dad is away. She knows both sides of that coin.
"Looking back, I can't imagine raising three kids by yourself," said Meyers Drysdale's oldest son, D.J, who was 6 years old when his father died. "When I was younger, I didn't understand all she was doing, but now that I'm older, I understand."
Meyers Drysdale made her career choices on her own terms -- and her terms were pretty simple: whatever is best for her kids.
Meyers was never a stay-at-home mom in the traditional sense. During her broadcasting career, she was able to create a schedule that might have her on the road for a few days or a week, but allowed her to be at home for weeks at a time.
Don Jr. (D.J.), Darren and Drew have always spent significant time with their grandmother or their aunt, family members pitching in and switching off to make sure they were taken care of when mom was on the road. And she would take her kids on the road one at a time, a way to spend time with them individually.
"We have grown up in a really big family and whenever she's gone, there's always someone at the house," Drew Drysdale said. "But I don't know how she's managed to do all the things she's done. She's planned a lot of her life around us and she's tried to incorporate us as much as possible."
D.J. Drysdale remembers his mom consulting them on some of her big decisions.
"I think she always talked to me a little more because I was older and I understood a little more," D.J. said. "I know she did have to turn things down, opportunities she had that would have taken her away from us."
D.J. said they had a family meeting when the Mercury called offering her the GM job.
"She sat down with us and went over the pros and cons," D.J. said. "One of the things she wanted to make sure was that she'd be able to commute because she didn't want to pull us out of of school."
WNBA Commissioner Donna Orender, herself a working mother with a demanding schedule, said Meyers Drysdale -- her former teammate on the New Jersey Gems of the former Women's Professional Basketball League -- has handled her situation with "grace and fortitude."
"She's had a wonderfully supportive family and every day she's making the most of the situation she has, making sure her kids are fine," Orender said. "She's always approached it realistically and practically."
Orender knows the tough choices.
"It's whether you go to this dinner or stay home and help your child prepare for a hard test in the morning," Orender said. "It happens several times a week every week. You realize the time is finite and you can't make it up."
Meyers Drysdale said that she is still heartbroken by her husband's death. She said she doesn't remember how she got through the first two years after his passing.
"I can't tell you what I did or what I said," Meyers Drysdale said. "Don was such a good man and he took care of us. But there were people worse off than us and that what I've tried to teach the kids."
Meyers Drysdale said that her juggling and her decisions are different now that her children are older.
D.J., 23, is an intern with the Suns, a practice player with the Mercury and a junior at Arizona State. He's moved close to his mom's work, but she said she still only sees him a couple of times a month, or if she happens to run into him in the hallway at the Suns facility. She will likely see more of him now at Mercury practices.
But he calls his mother every day.
"It reminds me of how things used to be with Don," Meyers Drysdale said. "He called me when he got to the hotel or to the ballpark, or when he got back. When he was on the road, we used to talk maybe half-a-dozen times a day."
Darren, 21, goes to school at Orange Coast Community College and is her go-to helper.
"Whenever I need help with the computer, really anything...when I call his name, I know he's rolling his eyes at me," Meyers Drysdale said.
Drew, who was an infant when her father died, is 17 now, a high school junior and track standout.
Darren and Drew live in Huntington Beach and when their mother is in Arizona, family members stay at the house.
"I always knew they were going to finish school in California," Meyers Drysdale said. "They are in school all day and I'm in the office all day. Their friends are there. Their lives are there. They are off doing their own things.Their lives wouldn't have been the same if they came with me (to Phoenix)."
Meyers Drysdale has been at the helm as the Mercury has won two championships in three years. The new season opens on May 15.
"But as much as I am enjoying my job and I love the organization, I know in this business that you are hired to get fired," Meyers Drysdale said.
Until that happens, she will continue her commuter life. The weekend before Mother's Day she came home to the L.A. area for a speaking engagement. She got out and played a little catch with Darren and took Drew shopping for a prom dress.
Meyers Drysdale isn't sure whether she will make it home for Mother's Day.
The Mercury have an exhibition game Saturday night against the Chinese National Team. She said the chances were "50-50" that she'd be able to spend the holiday with her kids, who will go to their grandmother's for a large family gathering.
But she doesn't need a holiday to count her blessings.
"I look at my children and I couldn't be more proud," Meyers Drysdale said. "If Don were alive, he'd be proud of them too."