Lusia Harris, the only woman to be officially drafted by an NBA team, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 66, her family announced in a statement, according to the Associated Press. The former athlete died in her hometown of Mississippi.
Regarded as a trailblazer in women’s basketball, Harris also wrote her name in Women’s Olympic Basketball history after scoring the tournament’s first-ever points.
“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,” Harris’ family said in a statement.
“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.”
The New Orleans Jazz selected Harris with the 137th overall pick in the 1977 NBA draft following an outstanding stint in college basketball. But despite being drafted, Harris couldn’t try out for the NBA team as she was pregnant during that period.
She later pursued a career in teaching, Marca reported. At the time Harris was drafted by the New Orleans Jazz, a professional league for women was yet to be established, and NBA teams were allowed to have female players on their rosters if they were deemed good enough to play.
During her time as a basketball player with Delta State University in the 1970s, Harris helped the team win three national titles in a row, the Associated Press reported. She averaged 25.9 points and 14.4 rebounds per game. And till date, Harris holds the university’s all-time scoring (2,981 points) and rebounding records (1,662).
Harris also earned a call up to play for the United States women’s national basketball team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics where they won silver. In 1992 Harris became the first Black woman to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. She was also inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame about seven years later.
“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 family said.
Harris was featured in a 2021 short film that focused on the pioneering athlete’s basketball career. The project is titled The Queen of Basketball.