My Basketball Career—Replaced by Two Other Loves!
I WAS seven years old when I started liking basketball. I used to go down to a driveway in the neighborhood and shoot baskets a couple of hours a day. By my senior year in high school, I was 6ʹ 5 1/2ʺ tall and weighed 185 pounds. That year our team won the title in our division. I got a scholarship to go to UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles), played under coach John Wooden, and two out of my last three years there, we won the national title.
My first year out of college, 1975, was a busy one. I signed a contract with the Los Angeles Lakers—at 1.6 million dollars or thereabouts, for five years. A week after that I was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. A month later I married Linda, and a month after that she was pregnant.
Well, anyway, I found out in a hurry how different it was playing in the NBA (National Basketball Association)! At UCLA we had a winning streak of 88 games, but in my first year with the Milwaukee Bucks we lost 44 games! I was playing every other night, against talented professional players. It was a business. It was your life. Especially so during the playing season, on the road a lot—it gobbled you up! But I loved it!
Soon, however, two other things intervened that I was to love more—things not compatible with my career in professional basketball.
You might say that the seeds for this tug-of-war were sown back in 1972 when I first met Linda. I immediately fell in love with her. She had been baptized earlier that year as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses but had become inactive. Still, she frequently brought up religion.
“How do you feel about the Bible?” she would ask.
“It’s a good mythology book,” I would answer.
I had been brought up a strict Catholic, but now I was in college and very tolerant and philosophical. The discussions never got too involved or very prolonged.
Then something happened in 1974 that got me into a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. There was a boy—Brian Good was his name—that I went to high school with. He hated me. It was a rivalry-type thing, competitors in sports. His parents were Witnesses, but he would have nothing to do with their religion. He got into drugs, grew long hair, was really obnoxious. A few years later I came into Linda’s house, and there was Brian. Married, short hair, necktie on, really clean-cut looking. He had become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Later on he and his wife were preaching full time in Kansas, and while driving cross-country to an assembly both were killed in an automobile accident. The funeral was held in the Kingdom Hall. I went, out of respect for Brian.
It was the strangest thing. The speaker stood there talking about everybody seeing Brian again. It was almost as if he wasn’t even dead, as I heard it. His family sat in front quietly weeping, but I didn’t even feel sad! It was unusual. Here’s this speaker talking about positive things, and I’m sitting there thinking: ‘Boy, this is really a nice talk! They’re going to see Brian again, and they’re going to be doing this and that with him!’
A year later, 1975, I was playing with the Milwaukee Bucks. One of my teammates was Elmore Smith, also traded to the Bucks that year. And in that same year he had been baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses! His wife, Jessica, had been a Witness for three or four years. It seemed like Witnesses were suddenly popping up everywhere in my life! Elmore and I became close friends, since neither of us drank or partied around. Well, he was always after me to study the Bible with him or go to the Kingdom Hall with him. I wasn’t ready for this. One day after practice—we had a real good practice, and Elmore and I were walking up the corridor—and Elmore says:
“Dave, I’m giving my first talk in the Theocratic Ministry School. I’d like you to come.” I hemmed and hawed, made an excuse, went home—and felt terrible! The next day at practice I told Elmore: “Now, Elmore, look. I really apologize. I tell you what, Linda and I will come to another meeting.” And, oh, he just loved that!
So later Linda and I went to a public talk and Watchtower Study at the Kingdom Hall. The Witnesses were very friendly. I was not, however, impressed with the talk, and the Watchtower Study was on the Bible book of Haggai or Habakkuk. I didn’t know what was going on. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘What is this? What am I doing here?’
Soon after that the basketball season ended, and we returned to California. We began drifting apart. I was worried about my career. I’d played most of the year with an injured knee, and now X rays showed that the kneecap was broken. The first year of my NBA contract, four more years to go, and now I don’t even know if I’m going to play! An operation on my knee was scheduled, and when I left for the hospital I took along the New World Translation.
“You’re going to take the Bible with you?” Linda asked, surprised.
“Yes. It’s a good mythology book. I’d like to read it.”
That night in the hospital I read several chapters but got bored when I got into a long section of genealogies. I became sleepy and put the book down. The next morning my surgery was successfully performed. Linda came to see me, but I was in pain and doped up—didn’t even know she had been there. She wasn’t there when I did come to, and that made me mad.
I got out of the hospital in a few days, and by a week later Linda and I had practically stopped talking to each other.
Then something happened that brought us together. One night I went to a movie with a friend. It was called The Omen. One of those scary science-fiction-type movies. It involved the demons. When I walked out of that movie, I was scared to death. It was about Satan’s child. Two scriptures from the book of Revelation were flashed on the screen. As I read those scriptures, I thought, ‘It says that in the Bible? That’s going to happen?’ One was about the number of the beast, 666; the other about a great light flashing from one end of the earth to the other end. It really scared me. Driving home, I kept looking over my shoulder expecting some demon to jump on me.
I went into the house, into our bedroom, and turned on the light. It was about 1:30 in the morning. Linda said:
“What do you have the light on for?”
“I’m nothing, I’m nothing.” I mumbled it over and over again.
Linda jumped out of bed. “What’s wrong, Dave, what’s wrong?”
“I’m scared!” I told her about the movie.
She got the Bible, and we both lay in bed. She read Matthew 7:13, 14 about the broad way to destruction and the narrow way to life. She kept reassuring me: “Dave, you don’t have to be afraid of Satan. You don’t have to fear him. Fear Jehovah. He’s the one who holds our life in his hands.” She kept on reading, and all of a sudden it seemed as if I had been in a dark room and someone turned a light on.
That night I didn’t sleep. The next morning I sat in bed and read in the Bible. First, Revelation, then First and Second Timothy, and First and Second Thessalonians, and Romans. All those little books. They started to make sense. As I was reading, I was thinking, ‘How come I’ve never read this before? Why didn’t I ever look at these things before?’ It was as if Jehovah opened my heart.
That evening Linda’s brother-in-law came over. He was a baptized Witness. For four hours I asked him questions, and he answered everything from the Bible. No issue became an issue for me. No blood transfusions, no Trinity, no immortal soul—all proved from the Bible. That settled it for me. It was as if a light went on in that month of September 1976. I called Elmore Smith and his wife and said:
“I’m going to have a Bible study with the Witnesses!”
They couldn’t believe it. Elmore couldn’t get over it. There had been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the NBA, now there would be two, and both on the same team!
I got baptized the next year, in August of 1977. I loved the door-to-door preaching work. In 1978 I auxiliary pioneered—which means I averaged 60 hours or more a month in preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom. It was also during the 1977-78 season that I had my greatest year in the NBA. But I was beginning to begrudge the time basketball was taking from my preaching work! I still loved the game of basketball, but I was beginning to love the preaching work even more!
I was also drawing closer to my family. Linda and I were very close now. We had a two-year-old daughter, Crystal. A year later, in 1979, our son Sean was born. A ruptured disk in my back kept me from playing basketball. It was painful, but it was a blessing in disguise. I was with my family every day, going to all the meetings, doing personal study, and again auxiliary pioneering. It was that summer that I made a decision in my heart—I would retire from professional basketball. I would fulfill my contract, but I would retire after the 1979-80 season.
That decision was all I needed! My strength started coming back, both my legs started to come back, and I won back my starting position in camp! So, after missing an entire year, I’m back in the starting line, and I’m playing. We made it to the playoffs. We won the division.
Ten days after the last game, I went to the owner’s office.
“Dave,” he said, “You’re going to become a free agent,” and he started to talk to me about money. He knew that as a free agent I could make much more money.
“Jim,” I interrupted, “I’m not going to play anymore.”
“What do you mean, you’re not going to play anymore? You can’t do that!”
“I’m doing it. My goals, my values, have changed, and basketball conflicts with them.”
“But you love basketball!”
“That’s true, I do.”
“Well, now wait a minute,” he brightened up. “You’re a Jehovah’s Witness, right? Your organization can use some money, right? We’ll donate part of your contract to them.”
“No,” I said, “being a Witness is more than donating money. It’s studying, going to meetings, preaching from door to door. Basketball, Jim, takes me away from that. Six months on the road isolates me from that. It also takes me away from my family responsibilities, and that’s also an important part of worshiping Jehovah.”—Deuteronomy 6:6, 7; Ephesians 5:25, 28, 33; 6:4.
We had a press conference the next day. The Milwaukee papers were there, the TV station was represented. Many of the articles in Milwaukee were very favorable. (See the box, opposite page.) But in Los Angeles they painted me as a little crazy. ‘This religion, this cult, they’ve got Dave thinking funny, but he’ll be back.’ That type of thing.
Interestingly, as soon as my retirement was announced, the tempting offers began pouring in. The Bucks sent me a better contract for the next year. The Los Angeles Lakers called, wanting me to play for them. They would pay my moving expenses to California and would locate a house for me. Seattle contacted me too. It was all very tempting. I still loved basketball, but by now I loved my family and serving Jehovah much more. I felt that Jehovah was right there with me, helping me resist those offers involving millions of dollars.—Proverbs 3:13-18; Zephaniah 1:18; 1 John 2:15-17.
And ever since he has blessed me. I have time for personal Bible study and attendance at meetings. I’m an elder in the congregation, give public talks, and frequently spend my full time in the ministry telling others about the good news of Jehovah’s Kingdom under Christ. These spiritual activities are a source of happiness to me. (Matthew 5:3) I also have time to be with my son and daughter while they are growing up, and I can help them in true worship. And I have time now to devote to my wife and keep our marriage strong.
The future is bleak for the great masses of humanity in this nuclear age. But my hope is a glorious one. Concerning the Paradise earth under God’s Kingdom, Revelation 21:4 says: “And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”
With this blessing from Jehovah in view, I considered it no sacrifice at all to set aside my basketball career. My love for my family and for Jehovah—these are my happinesses now. Plus my hope for endless life in the Paradise earth.
The same blessed hope is also yours if you wish it. Revelation 22:17 says: “Let anyone that wishes take life’s water free.”—As told by David Meyers.
[Blurb on page 22]
Witnesses were suddenly popping up everywhere in my life!
[Blurb on page 22]
I thought, ‘It says that in the Bible? That’s going to happen?’
[Blurb on page 23]
That summer I made a decision . . . I would retire from professional basketball
[Blurb on page 24]
The tempting offers began pouring in
[Box on page 24]
The sports editor of the Milwaukee Journal, Bill Dwyre, wrote: “The thought of Meyers giving up a potential $500,000 a year for playing basketball so he can go door to door as a Jehovah’s Witness is mind boggling. . . . But before everybody lines up to drive the bus with the straitjacket out to Meyers house, a deeper look at the man behind the decision is warranted. . . .
“He loved to talk about his family—his wife, Linda, and his young son and daughter. Conversations about basketball [his exploits in a game] invariably led to a quick change in the subject to praise of his teammates and talk about standings and referees. But conversations about his family, about subjects such as his daughter’s learning to walk or his wife’s quitting smoking, would light him up with an eagerness to communicate.
“‘A lot of people are going to think I’m crazy,’ he said Wednesday night, just hours after his formal press conference. ‘But all I really want to do is to get on to the more important things in my life, like my family and my religion.’
“He ought to be admired for having the guts to live his beliefs.”—May 1, 1980.
[Picture on page 25]
My love for my family and for Jehovah—these are my happinesses now