'Queen of Basketball' Lusia Harris, First and Only Woman Officially Drafted by the NBA, Dead at 66

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Lusia Harris
Lusia Harris

John G. Zimmerman /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Lusia "Lucy" Harris, a pioneer for women's basketball, has died. She was 66.

Delta State University, where Harris attended and played for, announced the news in a Tuesday statement, remembering her incredible legacy.

"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 the release, per DSU.

"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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Lusia Harris
Lusia Harris

Cindy Ord/Getty Images

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During her time at Delta State, Harris helped win three back-to-back Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women championships from 1975-1977. She still holds the school record for points (2,891) and rebounds (1,662), the university said.

While in college, Harris was tapped to play on the very first U.S. women's basketball team when the sport was introduced at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. During the groundbreaking game, Harris was the first woman to score a basket, and the U.S. would go on to win silver, per CNN.

Breaking barriers for women, Harris was officially drafted into the NBA by the New Orleans Jazz in 1977. Eight years prior, the San Francisco Warriors tried to select another woman, Denise Long, in the 1969 draft, but the NBA wouldn't allow in in part because of her gender, the Associated Press reported.

However, Harris turned down the opportunity to play in the league and didn't try out because she was pregnant, the outlet said.

"I just thought it was a publicity stunt and I felt like I didn't think I was good enough," CNN reported that Harris said in The Queen of Basketball, a recent documentary highlighting her impressive life and times. "So I decided not to go. Yeah, I said no to the NBA."

"The NBA, I don't regret not going. Not even a little bit," she added.

Though she said no to the men's league, Harris played in the Women's Professional Basketball League from 1979-80, per ESPN.

In other accolades, Harris was the first Black woman to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. She was also honored in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.

"Watching her play was marvelous," Ann Meyers Drysdale, a UCLA women's basketball alum who was Harris' Olympic teammate, told ESPN. "There was no one like her. She was 6-foot-3, solid as a rock. Had great footwork, great hands, could hit the 15-footer. Her post moves were so good."

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