Lusia Harris, who in 1977 made history by becoming the only woman to be officially drafted by an NBA team, has died aged 66.
Harris’ family released a statement:
“We are deeply saddened to share the news that our angel, matriarch, sister, mother, grandmother, Olympic medalist, The Queen of Basketball, Lusia Harris has passed away unexpectedly today in Mississippi.”
“The recent months brought Ms. Harris great joy, including the news of the upcoming wedding of her youngest son and the outpouring of recognition received by a recent documentary that brought worldwide attention to her story.”
Harris also made history in 1976 when she scored the first points in women’s basketball history at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada. earned a silver medal for the United States at the Montreal Olympics in 1976.
In 1977, the Mississippi-born basketball player was drafted by the New Orleans Jazz in the seventh round, beating 33 male players, but couldn’t try out for the team as she was pregnant at the time.
Between 1975 to 1978, she helped Delta State University win three straight national titles, and over three seasons, was named the national tournament’s most valuable player.
In 1992, she was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, making her the first Black woman to earn the honour.
Seven years later, she was enshrined into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, a list that includes Olympian Denise Curry, Australian Lauren Jackson and the youngest basketball player in Olympic history to win a medal — Nancy Lieberman.
Harris “held the distinction of being the [Olympic] team’s leading scorer and leading rebounder,” notes the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Lusia Harris-Stewart was big, relentless, and dominated the painted area like no woman before her.”
“In the mid-1970s when the horn sounded for a Delta State University Lady Statesmen’s basketball game, centre Lusia “Lucy” Harris could not be stopped,” Matthew Carey writes in Deadline.
She was Ben Proudfoot’s 2021 New York Time Op-docs, titled “The Queen of Basketball” which was Oscar-shortlisted.
“I was so excited to speak to her and told her who I was and asked her if she would be interested in talking to me and talking about her story,” director Ben Proudfoot told Deadline. “And she very simply said, ‘Sure, come on, come on over.’”
“One of the greatest basketball players of her time, male or female. She was absolutely preeminent. She was absolutely extraordinary.”
Harris’ family statement concludes:
“She will be remembered for her charity, for her achievements both on and off the court, and the light she brought to her community, the state of Mississippi, her country as the first woman ever to score a basket in the Olympics, and to women who play basketball around the world.”
Image: The New York Times