HOFer Harris, womens hoops pioneer, dies at 66

    Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Lusia Harris, who won three national championships at Delta State and scored the first points in Olympic women’s basketball history in the 1970s, passed away Tuesday at age 66, her family announced. The cause of death has not been released.

Harris was the first Black woman inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, in 1992. She 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, although she didn’t try out for the team because she was pregnant at the time. She did briefly play professionally in the Women’s Professional Basketball League in 1979-80.

A native Minter City, Mississippi, she put Delta State — located in Greenwood, Mississippi — on the map in women’s basketball with titles in 1975, ’76 and ’77 in the AIWA 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.”

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 percent 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. The U.S. team won the silver medal with Harris as its leading scorer and rebounder.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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