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Taking Women to New Heights

June 11, 1995|ROBIN ABCARIAN

Diana Meier, aspiring sports television star, answers the door to her modest Santa Monica apartment and it is easy to see why she draws stares.

She is pretty and she is blond and she is very, very tall.

For all that, she turns heads wherever she goes. But she's been getting attention from the time she was a baby, because before "the tall thing," as she puts it, there was "the twin thing."

Meier, 33, has an identical twin named Dawn, who lives in Ontario. They like to say they are 6 feet, 2 inches.

In fact, as Meier readily admits, that's a little white lie, exposed a few years back when the Guinness Book of World Records measured the Meiers in the category "Tallest Twins" (female division) for its 1994 edition.

Guinness measured them at 6 feet, 1 1/2 inches. Which was great, because at the time, the reigning tallest women twins were a mere 6 feet. Alas, before the new edition could be published, a pair of 6-foot-4 3/4 Palos Verdes upstarts bumped them out of contention.

Later, the Meier twins would beat them in a two-on-two grudge match.

Basketball, not surprisingly, has always been in Meier's blood. From the age of 11, she played every day in the park with her sister. She attended UC Irvine and the University of Texas, Houston on basketball scholarships. In Houston, she says, a newly arrived player named Hakeem Olajuwon cooked her dinner after she taught him her hook shot.

College was followed by stints on several pro teams--in England, Sweden, Spain and New Zealand.

For the most part, Diana Meier has not had to seek the spotlight; it has come rather naturally to her.

But as an athlete, no matter how much attention came her way, it was never the kind showered on male players. Her first salary as a professional player in England was a nearly laughable $500 a month. (How much, I wonder, did Olajuwon make his first pro season?)

It's a curious thing, dealing with men when you're a tall woman, Meier says.

"A lot of times, they have never looked at a woman eye to eye," she says. "They are used to dominating a woman physically. So when they look you in the eye, it sort of turns the tables and throws them off. What I have found is that if a man has had a positive experience with a tall woman in his past, he is fine. For others, I kind of have to talk them through it, a little bit like a counselor would."

And yes, the comments do become somewhat tiresome, but mostly, Meier says, "I sort of take a spiritual approach. I hear right through their comments and what I hear is that they are trying to say hello."

But if that is the downside of her stature, there is also a unique benefit: She can hold her own in a pickup game in any park in the world.

"I have for so many years shared something with men that most women never will," Meier says. "And it is something I will always cherish."

When she retired from basketball in 1990 and decided to try acting, she was cast in a guest spot on a TV show after her first audition. A few commercials and guest shots followed. Although she's played one-on-one with Tony Danza on "Who's the Boss" and has been "treated" by "ER" heartthrob George Clooney, she toils as a personal assistant to a commercial developer to make ends meet.

The Meier twins have appeared on talk shows, although Meier says she regrets being lumped in with the transvestite twins on "Geraldo's" "Wild and Wacky Twins" segment. ("I'm not super-proud of that," she says, "but they did make us look so normal because the others were so weird.")

Just this week, she and her sister were invited to meet with producers of "American Gladiators."

When she tells people--program directors, cable executives, network producers, potential sponsors--that she has created a show whose time has come, a TV show devoted solely to women's sports, she knows that while many of them are encouraging, she faces an uphill battle.

"She is very aggressive, very passionate," says Michael Weisman, former executive producer of NBC Sports, who is trying to put together a 24-hour all-women's sports network.

"Just on the surface, she has a lot of the qualities--passion, enthusiasm and an apparent willingness to work very hard," Weisman says. "She is going about it the right way; she is trying to get advertisers, and certainly companies are very much interested in women's sports."

Meier's hurdle, says Weisman, a 15-time Emmy winner, and it is a high one, is her lack of production experience.

On a shoestring, Meier has put together four editions of the show she calls "W Sportz."

The one I watched seemed like a diamond in the rough--low on production values, but high on potential. It featured interviews with pro beach volleyball players, a fitness talk show host who is confined to a wheelchair, a 49-year-old runner training to compete in the '96 Olympics and a woman who spins eight basketballs.

"Women are out there doing all these things," Meier says. "They're just not getting covered. And if you don't see it, how can you dream it?"

And if you can't dream it, how can you do it?

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