Lusia Harris: The only woman drafted in the NBA

Basketball’s history is flush with towering figures whose tales of tenacity, talent and triumph have shaped the modern contours of the sport. Every season, sports fans listen to radio phone-ins, study NBA betting trends and argue with friends about which player will emerge as that season’s MVP. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Lebron James were all immense players who have graced the court over the years. 

Yet, one NBA tale that emerges from this ocean of legends, speaking to a much larger narrative beyond just the game, is that of Lusia Harris. It’s a tale of defying conventions, surmounting insurmountable odds and achieving so much for generations that came after her without even needing to play a game in the NBA. 

Growing up in the Mississippi heartland

To understand the spirit of Lusia Harris, one must journey back to the Mississippi of the 1950s. It was a tough place, echoing with blues music and increasing racial tensions. For young Lusia, this was home. It was here that she found her two greatest loves: family and basketball.

Lusia’s introduction to basketball came thanks to her siblings. Young Lusia would get lost in the beauty of makeshift basketball courts. Over time, these sibling matches became an escape from life, and soon enough, an aspiration for how to better herself. It is common for basketball players to have strong relationships with their parents and siblings or girlfriends and boyfriends, even to this day. The role of the family unit in shaping basketball careers cannot be underestimated, and Luisa was no different. By the time she went to college, she was already a fearsome player. 

Delta dreams and collegiate conquests

Every legend starts somewhere, a place where dreams are tested and techniques refined. For Lusia, Delta State University was that sacred space. With every game she played, with every shot she took, Lusia wasn’t just scoring points, as she was etching her name in the annals of college basketball.

Lusia’s style of play was both graceful and gritty — much like her home state. As a center, she led Delta State University’s women’s team to three consecutive national championships during the 1970s. In her memoir Sum It Up, co-authored with Sally Jenkins in 2013, Pat Summitt, an Olympic peer and legendary women’s basketball coach for the University of Tennessee, characterized Harris as: “the pioneering powerhouse of contemporary women’s basketball, standing at 6-feet 3-inches and weighing a solid 185 pounds, she was a dynamic force, commanding the court and driving relentlessly to the basket.” 

A draft like no other

By 1977, Lusia Harris wasn’t just a college basketball sensation; she was a symbol. She personified possibilities, pushing past the boundaries of gender expectations. The NBA universe sat up and took notice. She was selected by the New Orleans Jazz in the seventh round of the 1977 draft, but she didn’t pursue the opportunity due to her pregnancy during that period.

Nevertheless, Lusia’s draft was more than just an accolade; it was an affirmation. A nod to her talent, tenacity and the trailblazing path she had carved for herself and for many others to follow.

The world stage and a global ambassador

Though her roots were firmly embedded in Mississippi, Lusia’s talent transcended borders. The Montreal Summer Olympics was not just another tournament for her; it was a global stage where she represented more than a country; she represented dreams and she helped the US team earn a silver medal.

As she maneuvered the ball with her characteristic flair, audiences worldwide got a glimpse of the passion, dedication and undying love for the sport that defined Lusia Harris.

Legacy beyond the court

Highlighted in the 2021 short film “The Queen of Basketball”, her exceptional journey was captured for posterity. In 1992, she became the first Black woman to be honored into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and her ability was further acknowledged with her induction into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999. At Delta State, her impressive average of 25.9 points contributed to a 109-6 record. The world bid farewell to this basketball pioneer in 2022, at the age of just 66.

In the grand tapestry of basketball history, Lusia Harris’s chapter shines brightly despite never actually playing in the men’s NBA. Her legacy is not just about the points scored, the matches won or even the records broken. It’s about the trails blazed, the norms challenged and the futures she forged simply by being herself. For any young girl or boy dreaming of becoming an NBA legend, studying Luisa Harris is a must. 


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