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"RIP Luisa Harris ‘Queen of Basketball,’ Dies at 66"


Its a shame when you doing really learn about great people until they die but she was truly one of the pioneers of women's basketball.

Lusia Harris, ‘Queen of Basketball,’ Dies at 66
She was the only woman officially drafted by the N.B.A. and the first Black woman inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Lusia Harris, a powerful center who led the Delta State University women’s basketball team to three consecutive national championships in the mid-1970s and later entered the Basketball Hall of Fame as the first Black woman and the first female college player ever to be enshrined there, died on Tuesday in Mound Bayou, Miss. She was 66.

Her daughter Crystal Stewart Washington confirmed the death, at a therapy facility, but said she did not know the cause. Harris lived in Greenwood, Miss.

One of women’s basketball’s most accomplished players, Harris was also the first woman to be officially drafted by an N.B.A. team, the New Orleans (now Utah) Jazz, although she said at the time that she did not think she could play at the level of professional male players.

She averaged 25.9 points and 14.4 rebounds a game at Delta State, in Cleveland, Miss., and also scored the opening points when women’s basketball was first played at the Olympics, in Montreal in 1976.

Pat Summitt, her Olympic teammate who went on to a Hall of Fame career as the women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee, described Ms. Harris, in her book, “Sum It Up” (2013, with Sally Jenkins), as “the first truly dominant player of modern women’s basketball, 6-foot-3 and 185 hard-muscled pounds of pivoting, to-the-rim force.”

Harris, known as Lucy, played at Delta State before the N.C.A.A. held a women’s basketball tournament (its first one was in 1982) and before major universities began to dominate the sport.

But there was a title for the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, and the Delta State Lady Statesmen won their first in 1975, defeating Immaculata University, a Pennsylvania school. During the next season, Ms. Harris scored 46 points against Queens College before 10,032 fans at Madison Square Garden.

“She was just a giant,” Donna Orender, who played for Queens College and later became president of the W.N.B.A., said in a phone interview. “There just weren’t that many women of that size and skill then. Down low, she was effective and efficient.”

Delta State soon after defeated Immaculata again to win the A.I.A.W. championship. Then, in 1977, the Lady Statesmen won the title over Louisiana State University.

“The men’s team didn’t sell out as well as the women’s team,” Harris said in “The Queen of Basketball” (2021), a short documentary film about her, directed by Ben Proudfoot and produced in partnership with the The New York Times, that premiered at the Tribeca Festival in New York. “We began to travel on airplanes. As a matter of fact, the men didn’t fly. I guess the women were bringing in the money.”

A few months after her final game at Delta State, Harris was chosen in the seventh round of the N.B.A. draft by the Jazz. Only one woman before her, Denise Long, then a high school senior, had been drafted — by the San Francisco (now Golden State) Warriors in 1969 — but Walter Kennedy, the N.B.A. commissioner, disallowed the pick.

Lewis Schaffel, the Jazz’s general manager, said that whether Harris could play was up to the team’s coach, Elgin Baylor, the former Los Angeles Lakers’ Hall of Famer. But Schaffel told United Press International, “She’s got the body for it — and I don’t mean that facetiously.”

Harris expressed shock that she was picked and did not take her selection too seriously.

“I play pretty well on the women’s level, but with the men, well, that’s something different,” she told The Associated Press at the time.

Harris ultimately declined to join a Jazz rookie camp; she was already married to her high school sweetheart, George Stewart, and wanted to start a family.

She was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in 1992

Lusia Mae Harris was born on Feb. 10, 1955, and grew up in Minter City, Miss. Her parents, Willie and Ethel (Gilmore) Harris, were sharecroppers. Lusia picked cotton but also played basketball with her brothers in their backyard. She molded her game, especially her defensive skills, at Amanda Elzy High School, in Greenwood, before attending Delta State.

By the time she was chosen for the 1976 United States Olympic team, Ms. Harris was a star. In addition to Summitt, the squad included Nancy Lieberman and Ann Meyers, two future Basketball Hall of Famers, and Gail Marquis. Harris scored the first points in women’s Olympic history in the opening game against Japan, which the United States lost.

One of her biggest challenges was playing against Juliana Semenova, the Soviet’s 7-foot center.

“She is so much taller, so much bigger and she didn’t jump,” Harris told the Kentucky Women’s Basketball Oral History last year. “All she had to do was extend her arms. And I mean, I’m only 6-3. The thing I figured out is that I would beat her down the court because she wasn’t that fast.”

The Soviets routed the Americans, 112-77, with Semenova scoring 32 to Harris’s 18. The United States team nonetheless departed Montreal with a silver medal after defeating Czechoslovakia.

In five games, Harris averaged 15.2 points and 7 rebounds.

Harris graduated with a bachelor’s degree in health, physical education and recreation. But she had few opportunities to play professional basketball. The W.N.B.A. was two decades away. The men got the opportunities she craved.

“Yeah, they’re millionaires, famous,” she said in “The Queen of Basketball.” “But I wanted to grow up and shoot that ball just like they would shoot it, and I did.”

Harris worked as an admissions counselor and assistant women’s basketball coach at Delta State; played briefly for the Houston Angels of the short-lived Women’s Professional Basketball League during the 1979-80 season; and coached the Texas Southern University women’s basketball team from 1984 to 1986.

She earned a master’s in special education from Delta State in 1984, taught special education and coached high school basketball in Mississippi. She retired nearly 20 years ago.

In addition to Ms. Stewart Washington, she is survived by another daughter, Christina Jordan; two sons, George Jr. and Christopher; her brothers Clarence Harris, Kendrick Blossom and Ronnie Blossom; her sisters Ethel James, Ella Harris, Darlene Lindsey and Linda Washington; and 10 grandchildren. Her marriage ended in divorce.

Harris’s enshrinement at the Basketball Hall of Fame, in Springfield, Mass. — where her presenter was Oscar Robertson, whom she idolized — was a reminder of how much impact she had as a player.

“Lucy was mean underneath the boards,” Margaret Wade, her coach at Delta State, told The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss. “When she wanted to score, she could score. But the thing I liked about Lucy was, she was a team player. She did what the team needed and that’s why we were successful.”

Richard Sandomir is an obituaries writer. He previously wrote about sports media and sports business. He is also the author of several books, including “The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper and the Making of a Classic.”

"Take the surprise out your voice Shaq."-The REAL CP3


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RIP Luisa Harris ‘Queen of Basketball,’ Dies at 66 [View all] , ThaTruth, Sat Jan-22-22 10:21 AM
Subject Author Message Date ID
She had quite the career
Jan 22nd 2022
Respect due.
Jan 22nd 2022

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