Athletes and admirers paid tribute to girls’s basketball legend Lucia Harris, who died Tuesday on the age of 66. Harris might not be a family identify, however her credentials communicate for themselves: She led her school staff to a few championships within the Seventies, gained the primary level in Olympic girls’s basketball historical past, and was the one A lady formally chosen by the NBA.
“It’s with deep unhappiness that we share the information that our angel, matriarch, sister, mom, grandmother, Olympic champion and basketball queen Lucia Harris handed away unexpectedly at the moment in Mississippi,” the household mentioned in an announcement. The state shared the college, her alma mater. “The previous few months have introduced nice pleasure to Ms. Harris, together with the information of her youngest son’s impending wedding ceremony, and the good recognition of a current documentary that introduced her story to world consideration.”
Harris is the daughter of a sharecropper in Minter, Mississippi. She remembers staying up late to observe basketball, placing blankets over herself and the TV to observe Invoice Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson and her different heroes in a 2021 New York Occasions documentary.
“I wish to develop up and have my family, and I wish to shoot like they shoot,” she mentioned.
Harris, the tallest in her class at 6-foot-3, recalled being made enjoyable of about her top. However when she began taking part in basketball, she began seeing it to her benefit.
She attended Delta State College as a result of — due to the passage of Title IX — it had a basketball program. She was the one black member of the staff and rapidly turned one in every of its stars.
“As one of many best facilities in girls’s basketball, Lucia Harris-Stuart is tall, ruthless, and guidelines the Painted District like several girl earlier than her,” she wrote in her entry on the Naismith Memorial Basketball Corridor of Fame web site. highway. “Throughout a four-year profession at Delta State … Harris Stewart modified the face of girls’s basketball. Opponents known as them unstoppable, however even then it’s laborious to explain how they play.”
Harris is averaging 25.9 factors and 14.5 rebounds in her 115 school video games whereas “taking pictures 63.3 p.c from the sphere,” in response to Delta State. She was a part of three AIAW Nationwide Championship groups in 1975, 1976 and 1977.
She stays the holder of varsity profession factors (2,891) and rebounds (1,662). Harris earned Kodak All-American honors in 1975, 1976 and 1977 and was the Mississippi Athlete of the 12 months in 1976.
She then represented the US on the 1976 Olympics, the primary ever girls’s basketball. There, she scored the primary basket of Sport 1, put her staff on the scoreboard and her identify is within the historical past books. The staff gained a silver medal.
However when school ended, it seemed like her days on the courtroom had been the identical.
“I wished to maintain performing, however there was nowhere to go,” she informed the movie’s producers. “Once I got here, there was no WNBA. They didn’t exist.”
Harris obtained engaged to her highschool sweetheart and began a household. In 1977, nonetheless, she obtained a name from the New Orleans Jazz asking them to use to affix the staff.
Just one girl had been drafted by the NBA earlier than: Dennis Lengthy was drafted by the San Francisco Warriors in 1969, however the league vacated the draft choose. Harris wasn’t positive if the chance was proper for her.
“I simply thought it was a publicity stunt and I didn’t suppose I used to be ok,” Harris mentioned. “Combating with girls, sure. Competing with males is one other factor. So I made a decision to not.”
Briefly, Harris described her struggles with psychological well being, returning residence to teaching and elevating her youngsters at her outdated highschool. However she doesn’t remorse turning down the NBA.
“In no way,” she mentioned. When requested why, she pointed to the kids’s achievements: one as a lawyer, one with a grasp’s and two with a Ph.D. All are athletes.