“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 statement said.
Harris led Delta State to three consecutive Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) national championships from 1975-1977.
While at Delta State, women’s basketball was introduced to the Olympics in 1976. Harris was selected to the team and had the distinction of being the first woman to score a basket in the competition’s first game. The US won the silver medal that year.
After her collegiate career, the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz, which began play in 1974 and would later move to Utah, selected her in the seventh round of the 1977 NBA draft.
Another woman, Denise Long, was selected
in the 1969 draft by the San Francisco Warriors but the pick was vacated by the league, making Harris the only woman, to date, to be officially drafted.
Yet Harris turned down the offer from the Jazz, intent on starting a family.
“I just thought it was a publicity stunt and I felt like I didn’t think I was good enough,” she said in “The Queen of Basketball,” a short film
about her life and career. “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 said.
The native of Minter City, Mississippi, was inducted
into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992 and was part of the inaugural class
of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.
Harris is still Delta State’s career record holder in points (2,891) and rebounds (1,662), the university said.
“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,” her family said in the statement.
“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.”