One of basketball’s unheralded heroines, Lucia “Lucy” Harris, who became the first and only woman to be drafted into the NBA in 1977, died on Tuesday, per Yahoo Sports and ESPN. She was 66.
If you’re a hoops head, and you’re unfamiliar with her name, you aren’t alone. But as I previously noted, there are a couple of reasons why you should be:
If you have no idea who Lusia “Lucy” Harris is, you’re not alone.
Thankfully, since we live in a day and age in which Google is free, a quick search will reveal that the 66-year-old was a basketball prodigy in a past life. She won three consecutive national championships while attending Delta State University, took home a gold medal after the ‘75 Pan Am Games, held it down for the U.S. National Team in the ‘76 Olympics, and also holds the unique distinction of being the first and only woman to be drafted by an NBA team—courtesy of the Utah Jazz.
In short, homegirl was the truth; as evidenced by her induction into both the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 and becoming one of the first women inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.
Her family did not reveal her cause of death, but in a statement, they expressed their grief from her loss.
“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 statement said. “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.”
Her captivating story was finally brought to the world courtesy of the award-winning documentary The Queen of Basketball; which, as we previously reported at The Root, was released in 2021 and had NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal come on board as an executive producer in November.
“When I first googled Lucy’s name at the suggestion of a colleague and learned how she was the first and only woman officially drafted to the NBA, how she had scored the first basket in women’s Olympic history, and how, as a young Black woman from a tiny town and college in the Mississippi Delta, she led her team to three national titles in the mid-’70s—I wondered how I had never heard of her, and where she was today,” director Ben Proudfoot said in a statement provided to The Root prior to the release of the film. “And when I had the opportunity to visit with her at her home in Mississippi, it became clear that Lucy’s story was much more than just a basketball story, and Lucy [is] far more than an elite athlete and pioneer, but a gifted and open storyteller with a clarion memory.”
On behalf of The Root, our thoughts and prayers go out to Harris’ friends and family. Check out The Queen of Basketball below to learn more about this trailblazing basketball pioneer.