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Legendary Basketball Hall of Famer Lusia Harris Dies

She was only woman officially drafted by NBA

By Dorothy J. Gentry
Sports Editor

Cindy Ord
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival

To many, Lusia “Lucy” Harris was the original “Hidden Figure,” her contributions to the sport of basketball largely unnoticed for decades.

She scored the first points in Olympic women’s basketball history in the 1970s and was drafted by the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz in 1977 (the first and only woman to be officially drafted by an NBA team). 

In 1992, she became the first Black woman inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. 

And finally, after decades of relative anonymity, she was finally getting the recognition she deserved for her pioneering efforts in basketball. She was finally receiving her flowers thanks to publicity surrounding a popular documentary about her life.

And now she’s gone. 

Harris, whose story is told in this year’s documentary short, “The Queen of Basketball,” died Tuesday in Mississippi at the age of 66. 

Her family confirmed her unexpected death in a statement. The cause of death has not been released.

“We are deeply saddened to share the new that our angel, matriarch, sister, mother, grandmother, Olympic medalist, The Queen of Basketball, Lusia Harris has passed away unexpectedly today in Mississippi, her family said in a statement.

“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. 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.”

“The Queen of Basketball,” a documentary directed by Ben Proudfoot, has won several awards since being released during last year’s Tribeca Film Festival including: Best Short Documentary – The Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards; Best Short Documentary – Palm Springs Shortfest; Best Short Documentary & Best of Fest – Nevada City Film Festival.

The film also won the Best Documentary Short award at the 2021 Palm Springs ShortFest, making it eligible for consideration for the 2022 Oscars. Oscar nominations are due to be announced on February 8. 

Hall-of-fame NBA player Shaquille O’Neal, who served as executive producer on the documentary, told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year: “She was a woman athlete, a Black woman athlete and she’s been historically shortchanged and denied opportunities. 

“We just want the world to know [she] was the greatest ever. I just want women, especially female athletes, to see this.”

While a student at Delta State, Harris led the school to three consecutive AIAW championships (1975, 1976 and 1977), tied with Immaculata for the most AIAW championships of any college. 

During each of those title runs, Harris was named MVP of the AIAW national tournament. She finished her college career with 2,981 points (25.9 ppg) and 1,662 rebounds (14.4 rpg). As a senior, she was awarded the Honda Broderick Cup as the best collegiate athlete in any sport.

Harris also made history in international basketball, earning a gold medal as a member of the 1975 U.S. Pan American Team that competed in Mexico City. 

Per ESPN, women’s basketball debuted in the 1976 Olympics and Harris scored the first basket of the competition in the Montreal Games, leading the United States to a silver medal as its leading scorer and rebounder.

In 1977, Harris made history again when she was selected by the New Orleans Jazz with the 137th pick of the 1977 NBA draft; the first-ever woman to be drafted to the NBA. Due to her pregnancy, she never reported to training camp or played with the team but still remains the only woman ever to be officially drafted by an NBA team. 

Harris did play for the Houston Angels of the now-defunct Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL).  She is also a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and several other Halls including the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

For more on the life and career of Lusia “Lucy” Harris, visit the following sites:

It’s important to note that Dallas Skyline’s own Donnie F. Wilson is also listed as an executive producer on the documentary, The Queen of Basketball.

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