Lusia Harris, a three-time Delta State champion and the first woman to be formally drafted by the NBA, died on Tuesday at age 66, her family announced.
According to ESPN, a cause of death was not given.
“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 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 a 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.”
While paving the way for other women in the sport, Harris became the first Black woman to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. Before the team moved to Utah, Harris was drafted to the New Orleans Jazz in 1977, making her the first and only woman to be drafted to an NBA team.
USA Basketball mourns the loss of The Queen of Basketball, Lusia Harris.
Lusia was a 1976 Olympic silver medalist, scored the first points in Olympic women's basketball history & became the first Black woman inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. pic.twitter.com/ISrRjIqM3x
— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) January 19, 2022
After finding out she was pregnant, Harris decided not to try out for the Jazz. However, she spent one season playing in the Women’s Professional Basketball League in 1979-80.
“I just thought it was a publicity stunt, and I felt like I didn’t think I was good enough,” CNN reported that Harris said in The Queen of Basketball documentary, a short film highlighting her personal life and basketball career.
“So I decided not to go. Yeah, I said no to the NBA,” she added.
The Mississippi native dominated women’s basketball in college, winning three titles with Delta State from 1975-1977.
Harris debuted in the Women’s Olympics in 1976, scoring the first points against Japan in the Montreal Games. ESPN reported that she led the U.S. team to a silver medal as its leading scorer and rebounder.
When her basketball career ended, Harris became head coach at her alma mater, Amanda Elly High School in Greenwood, Mississippi, Black Enterprise reported.
Former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal became an executive producer of The Queen of Basketball documentary.
In the documentary, the 66-year-old opened up about her battle with her mental health and the WNBA founded in 1996.
“I am excited that Shaquille O’Neal decided to join as an executive producer for The Queen of Basketball,” Harris said last year. “Shaq is one of my favorite basketball players, and I have enjoyed following his career after the game. I truly appreciate having his support for this project.”