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The life and legacy of Lucy ‘Queen of Basketball’ Harris

Published: Feb. 28, 2022 at 10:27 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - As we conclude our celebration of Black History Month, we honor a woman from a small college in the Delta who defied the odds and did the unthinkable on the basketball court.

The late Luisa “Lucy” Harris was one of greatest basketball players of all time with a history making career.

“She is awesome. She’s everything you would want to be as a woman basketball player,” said Chelsey Rhodes.

Rhodes is the associate head coach and a former player at Delta State. She is honored and humbled to follow in the footsteps of Lucy Harris. She recalls the day she met the basketball icon, a day she will never forget.

“I didn’t think it would ever happen,” she said. “She was really nice, she answered all my questions.”

Some young players echo that sentiment. They marvel at the fact that they get the chance to play for a team that Harris was a major force on during her college years.

“Carrying on legacy, you want to play the hardest you can play every night because she did. So you have to keep that legacy alive,” said college basketball player Mackenzie Hill.

Born in Minter City, Mississippi, Lucy Harris was something special. The 6′3 center was a dominate force on Delta State’s Women’s Basketball Team. Her skill set, strength, and leadership helped the team win three national titles in a row.

“We had an amazing run there. Won championships ‘75, ‘76 and ‘77.” The university’s President Bill LaForge remembers those glory days.

“It was great,” he recalled, “the whole team and Lucy for sure. She was a star. She was a big center; she could score just about on demand. If she was underneath the basket, she was going to score. And she was a great defense player.”

This unstoppable post player went on to earn a spot on the 1975 U.S. Olympic Team. She helped them earn a silver medal and scored the first points ever in Olympic women’s basketball history.

In 1977, she became the first woman to officially be drafted into the NBA when she was selected by the new Orleans Jazz. She turned down the offer and, instead, she decided to start a family.

Harris also played one season for the Houston Angels in the women’s professional basketball league, and her accomplishments continued to roll in.

“The first woman and the first woman of color to be enshrined in the basketball Hall of Fame. Nobody can beat those records,” said Ben Proudfoot.

Proudfoot is the director of the 2021 documentary called The Queen of Basketball. It highlights Harris and her amazing accomplishments. NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal is an executive producer on the short film.

“The film is a window into Lucy’s life; a window into her story,” Proudfood said. “And it just is risen above, you know, a movie for entertainment sake. It is actually correcting, or beginning to correct, or trying to correct, the shameful oversight that has been Lucy’s story that has been buried for many decades. That is why we worked with The New York Times to bring the film to the world for free on YouTube.”

The documentary short film is now nominated for an Academy Award. Those who loved and admired this pioneer say they are excited about this Oscar nod, but they are also in mourning. After achieving the unthinkable and defying the odds, Lucy Harris died last month at the age of 66.

“It was a crazy roller coaster. Her funeral was on a Saturday and the film was nominated for an Academy Award on a Tuesday.”

Everyone who loves and admires her says that although this amazing athlete is gone, what she did for the game of basketball and the lives she touched will never be forgotten.

“She was a pioneer for African Americans in the Delta,” Proudfoot said.

“She worked so hard and she makes you feel like if you work hard as you can, you do anything you set your mind to,” said Mackenzie Hill.

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