THE NEWS that Ann Meyers has signed a contract with a National Basketball Association team sent the sports world into a dither Wednesday. Is this a blow struck for women or just a publicity gimmick? Do the Indiana Pacers really believe this athletically talented woman can compete successfully against the men who play professional basketball or are they preparing to pay Miss Meyers $50,000 as a stunt?

The immediate reaction among most of the sports experts was that Sam Nassi, the new owner of the Pacers, is pulling a Bill Veeck. Mr. Veeck, in case you don't remember, once signed a midget to a major league baseball contract. That made him, and his old St. Louis Browns, the talk of the league for a while, and the signing of Miss Meyers will certainly do the same for Mr. Nassi and the Pacers.

There is a difference, though. The powers that ran professional baseball got pretty huffy about the midget, just as they did a few years later when a minor league team had its eye on a good shortstop who happened to be female. Women, the late Ford Frick told the team, could not be signed in baseball contracts. The men who run professional basketball now, principally Commissioner Larry O'Brien, are not so brazen. "The NBA does not discriminate against athletes on any basis, including sex," Mr. O'Brien said upon learning of Miss Meyers' contract. "I wish her luck . . ."

She will, quite likely, need luck. There is little doubt that she plays basketball as well as anyone else in the nation who is 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighs 135 pounds. Unfortunately for her, only two other players in the NBA are that short and each of them weighs 30 pounds more. In a game where height, strength and mere bulk often seem to count for more than speed, finesse and shooting ability, she starts off with disadvantages.

Only time, grueling practices in Indiana and some NBA playing experience will tell whether she can overcome those physical attributes. If she can, she ought to be playing among the giants where the financial rewards far, far outstrip anything available to those who compete in women's sports. If she can't, she won't be around the league long. What counts is whether the NBA now lives up to Mr. O'Brien's words and gives her a fair chance to show what she can do regardless of why the Pacers may have signed her.