Lusia Harris, trailblazing basketball Hall of Famer and only woman officially drafted by NBA team, dies at 66

Lusia Harris, who won three national championships at Delta State and scored the first points in Olympic women's basketball history in the 1970s, died Tuesday at age 66, her family announced.

A cause of death was not given.

Harris was the first Black woman inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, in 1992. Her coach at Delta State, Margaret Wade, had been inducted in 1985. Harris was also drafted by the NBA's New Orleans Jazz in 1977, making her the first and only woman to be officially drafted by an NBA team.

Harris, who had married her high school sweetheart while in college, didn't try out for the Jazz because she was pregnant. However, she did briefly play in the Women's Professional Basketball League in 1979-80.

A native of Minter City, Mississippi, she put Delta State -- located in Cleveland, Mississippi -- on the map in women's basketball with titles in 1975, '76 and '77 in the AIAW era of the sport.

"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.

"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."

Immaculata won the first three AIAW titles from 1972 to 74, and Delta State the next three. Delta State beat Immaculata in the 1975 and '76 AIAW championship games, and current Indiana Fever coach Marianne Stanley played for Immaculata at that time.

"She was like the Tina Charles or Sylvia Fowles of her time," Stanley said of the current WNBA star centers. "Just head and shoulders above lots of other folks. Their team was terrific; we battled them in championships a couple of times. Lucy was the anchor in the middle and was a dominant player.

"We were good at that time, so to beat us, you had to be pretty damn good. Delta State was our rival and our equal. And we had some knock-down drag-out games for sure. We've lost part of our history with Lucy."

Harris remains Delta State's career record-holder in points (2,891) and rebounds (1,662), as she averaged 25.9 points and 14.5 rebounds in 115 career games played. Harris shot 63.3% from the field for her career. She was a three-time All-American.

Women's basketball debuted in the 1976 Olympics, and Harris scored the first basket of the competition in the Montreal Games against Japan. The U.S. team won the silver medal with Harris as its leading scorer and rebounder.

Ann Meyers Drysdale, who led UCLA to the AIAW championship in 1978, was Olympic teammates with Harris, as was Nancy Lieberman, who won two AIAW titles with Old Dominion in 1979 and 1980.

"Watching her play was marvelous," Meyers Drysdale said of Harris. "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."

Lieberman said, "I remember her as player just being cool, calm, collected. She gave everything she could of who she was.

"Lucy was such a powerful, quiet leader. She never really raised her voice, but she had a presence about her. I feel so bad for her kids, for Delta State, for us. Because we just loved her."

Harris was also featured in a 2021 short film titled "The Queen of Basketball" that detailed her career.