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Harris, women’s basketball pioneer, dies at 66

By Alexa Schorr

Lusia Harris was the first woman to ever be officially drafted into the NBA and the first to score the first points in a women’s Olympic basketball game. In 1977, the New Orleans Jazz drafted Harris, although she didn’t play in an official NBA game. Sadly, she died on Jan. 18 at age 66 unexpectedly in her Mississippi home. 

In 1969, the San Francisco Warriors tried to attempt a draft for Denise Long in the 13th round. NBA commissioner J. Walter Kennedy turned down the selection, leaving Harris to be the first woman drafted. Harris was the sixth pick of the seventh round in the draft. 10 WBNS said “The Jazz invited Harris to try out for the team but she ‘thought it was a publicity stunt,’ Harris said in a 2021 short documentary about her life by the New York Times. ‘I didn’t think I was good enough.’” 

Once Harris found out it wasn’t for publicity, she still politely declined. She and her husband had planned to have a family at the time she was drafted “‘So I decided not to go,’ Harris said in the documentary. She never saw any NBA game time,” 10 WBNS said.

Although Harris never got to compete in an official NBA game she got the opportunity to play in the first-ever women’s Olympic basketball game while still in college. Representing the United States, her team brought home a silver medal from the Montreal Olympics in 1976. 

Harris helped lead Delta State University to three national titles in the 1970s. She averaged 25.9 points and 14.4 rebounds while at Delta State. During her time there, she increased the record to 109-6. Harris is the all-time scorer with 2,981 points and 1,662 rebounds at the university. In 1975, Harris was named to the U.S. women’s team. 

Harris went on to play in the WBL for the Houston Angels in the 1979-80 season. In 1992, Harris was admitted into the Basketball Hall of Fame making history as the first black woman to earn that honor. Seven years later in 1999, she was enshrined into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. 

A recent documentary Harris starred in called The Queen Of Basketball said, “‘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.’”

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