Women’s History Month: Lusia Harris

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Disney General Entertainment Con

Walt Disney Television via Getty Images SPORTS – 1976 SUMMER OLYMPICS – Women’s Basketball – The 1976 Summer Olympic Games aired on the Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Television Network from July 17 to August 1, 1976. Shoot Date: July 20, 1976. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images) LUSIA HARRIS (USA, DUNKING), WOMEN’S BASKETBALL (USA VS. BULGARIA)

Steven Mulvihill, Sports & Entertainment Editor

Lusia Harris was a former professional basketball player and the first woman to be officially drafted by the NBA. She was also among the first women on the United States Women’s Basketball team in the Olympic games. 

Harris grew up in Minister City, Mississippi as the daughter of sharecroppers. In a 2021 documentary, she remembered staying up late at night to watch NBA legends Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Oscar Robertson on television. 

In a New York Times documentary about her, she stated “I wanted to grow up and have my own family, and I wanted to shoot the ball just like they were shooting.”

Harris then enrolled at Delta State and walked on the Women’s Basketball team, where she quickly became one of the school’s stars. She had a very good collegiate period, averaging 25.9 points and 14.5 rebounds all at a solid height of 6’3”. She was also part of the AIAW national championship team, winning the title from 1975-1977. She currently remains the university career-record point holder at 2,981 and rebound holder at 1,662.

Harris made her name when she represented the U.S. at the 1976 Olympics, the first games that featured women’s basketball. This game put her name in the history books as her team took home a silver medal. 

But after the Olympics, Harris nearly had no other opportunities to continue basketball since the WNBA was not founded until 1996. So she settled down, got engaged, and decided to start a family.

However, in 1977, an offer was extended to her by the New Orleans Jazz (now the Utah Jazz) from the NBA. She decided to turn the offer down because “I just thought it was a publicity stunt, and I felt like I didn’t think I was good enough,” Harris said. “Competing against a woman, yes. It’s a different story competing against a man. So I decided not to go.”

Even though Harris struggled with mental health, taking care of her kids, and taking the coaching job at her old high school, she still does not regret rejecting the offer. When asked why, she pointed to her children’s accomplishments. One has a doctorate, and two have master’s degrees, but all are athletes. 

Harris’s legacy is cemented in basketball history even though her playing days are long gone. She is a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Delta State hall of fame in 1983. 

Harris was also inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992 becoming the first female collegiate player and the first Black woman inducted. 

Lusia Harris sadly passed in January of this year at age 66. Though her playing days were long ago, she still has left an indelible mark on basketball and specifically women in basketball. Harris lived long enough to see the creation of the WNBA, which gave opportunities that women like her were earlier denied. Her legacy showed that women could play basketball professionally and deserved the same opportunities as men’s basketball players.