Lusia Harris became the first woman ever drafted in the NBA in 1977 by the New Orleans Jazz.
She finished her college career with 2,981 points and 1,662 rebounds, averaging 25.9 points and 14.5 rebounds per game.
Standing at 6’3, Harris played at Delta State University from 1974-77 and led the school to three consecutive National titles in NCAA Division III from 1975-77.
Born in Minter City, Mississippi to Ethel and Willie Harris, a vegetable farmer as the tenth of 11 children, Harris loved basketball. As it turned out, all of her brothers and one of her older sisters, Janie, also played basketball.
Harris and her siblings attended Amanda Elzy High School in Greenwood, Mississippi. During high school, Harris set her high school record of scoring 46 points in a game and that was at a time when many girls’ programs around the country were still playing 6 on 6 basketball.
Mississippi was one of the first States to adopt the 5 on 5 rules and Harris was one of the first dominant female basketball players playing by “men’s rules”.
After leading her team to three straight State tournaments, instead of attending the Historically Black College – Alcorn State University where there was no women’s basketball team – Harris chose to go to the predominantly white college Delta State University at the risk of her own life just to play basketball.
At the time, black people weren’t allowed to eat in the same buildings as whites, walk on the same sidewalk, or even make eye contact with white people. Harris was the only black girl on her team. In her own words, she said: “I had seen white people before, but I had never talked to them.”
The first time women were allowed to compete in basketball at the Olympics was in 1976 and Harris’ team earned a silver medal for the US in the Montreal Olympics.
On that team were some of the greatest female basketball players to ever play the game, but Harris dazzled. She would end up leading her team in both points and rebounds.
Describing her, Pat Summitt, a teammate on that team and one of the greatest coaches basketball has known said: “Lucy Harris helped us win a silver medal. Without her, we don’t win a silver medal. She was our anchor”.
Summit compared her to Shaquille O’Neal. That year at the Olympics she averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds and she was the first woman ever to score a bucket in the Olympics.
In the 1977 NBA, Harris was drafted in the seventh round ahead of 33 men by the New Orleans Jazz making her the first and so far the only woman ever officially drafted. Harris declined because she was pregnant at the time.
Years later, Harris played a year of pro basketball for the short-lived Women’s Professional Basketball League with the Houston Angels. She returned to Delta State where she earned a master’s in education and became an Assistant Women’s Basketball coach.
She later spent two years as a head coach for Texas Southern University Women’s Basketball team and in 1992, Harris and Nora White became the first women to be elected into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Players change the game. But before we think about the changes, we have to think who really laid the foundation. I mean, we’ve had a lot of wonderful coaches, and we’ve had a lot of great players, but one player that gave us international respect was Lucy Harris,” Summitt said.
Harris is now married and goes by the name Lusia Harris-Stewart. She now teaches in her home state of Mississippi and coaches sometimes.