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Lusia Harris, the only woman to be drafted by an NBA team, dies at 66

Lusia Harris leaps for the basket.
Lusia Harris goes in for a layup for Delta State in 1977, the year she was drafted by the New Orleans Jazz.
(John G. Zimmerman / Sports Illustrated)

Lusia Harris, the only woman to be drafted by an NBA team and the first person to score a point in women’s basketball for the United States in the Olympics, has died at her home in Mississippi. She was 66.

“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,” her family said in a statement Tuesday.

“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 was drafted by the New Orleans Jazz in the seventh round in 1977, when the draft consisted of 10 rounds. There are now only two rounds.

But Harris never played for the team because she was pregnant at the time.

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Eight years earlier, the San Francisco Warriors — now the Golden State Warriors — had tried to draft Denise Long, but the NBA blocked it because she didn’t meet the criteria to be drafted — largely because of her gender.

Harris helped Delta State University win three straight national titles in the 1970s and earned a silver medal for the United States at the Montreal Olympics in 1976.

Harris was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992, becoming the first Black woman to earn that honor. She was later enshrined into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

“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 family’s statement said.

Harris averaged 25.9 points and 14.4 rebounds at Delta State, lifting the team to a 109-6 record during her time there. She remains the school’s all-time leader in scoring (2,981 points) and rebounding (1,662).

Harris was named to the U.S. women’s team in 1975. The following year, women’s basketball made its Olympic debut and Harris scored the first points in the first game of the tournament.

She was the subject of a 2021 short film, “The Queen of Basketball,” that chronicled her career.


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