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Lusia Harris, the only woman officially drafted to the NBA in history and the first Black woman enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, has died at 66. A cause of death has yet to be revealed. Harris’ death was confirmed by her family in a statement shared by Delta State University, the trailblazing basketball legend’s alma mater.
“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 family revealed. “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.”
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The daughter of sharecroppers, Harris was raised in Minter City, Miss, where she gained a love for basketball by watching players like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Oscar Robertson dominate the sport during the ’60s. Attending Delta State on a scholarship, Harris led the school’s women’s basketball team to three national titles and was a three-time All-American during her collegiate career. She remains the university’s career leader in points (2,891) and rebounds (1,662). After graduating from Delta State, Harris was selected by the New Orleans Jazz in the seventh round of the 1977 NBA draft, making her the only woman to officially be drafted by the league in its history. However, due to pregnancy and her belief that the opportunity was a publicity stunt, she opted not to join the team.
Harris would also play on the inaugural U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team at the 1976 Summer games, joining fellow legends Nancy Lieberman and Pat Summitt on the squad, and became the first woman to score a point in Olympic basketball play. Harris and the United States won a silver medal, further adding to her decorated resume. Inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992, as well as the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999, Harris’ life and contributions to the game have been an inspiration to generations of women who have followed in her footsteps.
In 2021, the New York Times profiled Harris’ story in a documentary titled The Queen of Basketball, which was released less than a year prior to her death.
Watch The Queen of Basketball below.