The Legacy of the Queen of Basketball

Kylar Royer, Photographer

The Queen of Basketball, Lusia “Lucy” Harris was a three-time consecutive national champion, Olympian, Hall of Famer and the only African-American woman to be drafted into the NBA. 

Harris, who died in January 2022, grew up in Minter City, Mississippi, playing ball with her siblings and neighbors in their yard. As a kid, she would stay up past her bedtime watching players like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and her favorite, Oscar Robertson. All Harris wanted to do was shoot the basketball as they had. 

In high school, Harris joined the basketball team with no prior experience in the game, but she became a natural. The 6-foot-3 center used her height to her advantage, scoring 40 points in one game, Harris recalls in a New York Times documentary

In 1972, Title IX was passed, prohibiting sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal financial assistance. Title IX opened the door for women to play at the collegiate level, and Harris grabbed the opportunity. As a result, Hall of Fame coach Margaret Wade put together a team for the first time in school history. 

Despite the passage of Title IX, the NCAA was still a men’s league in 1975. The women were left to compete in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. During the time, Delta State had climbed to the national championship game against the undefeated, three-time consecutive national champions, Immaculata. Harris put up the first few points of the game and controlled the paint, ultimately leading to Immaculata’s defeat. 

After Delta State’s first national championship win, Harris began to receive much publicity, taking on the title “Queen Lucy.” At the time, the women’s team drew more fans and brought in more money than the men’s team, so they started to travel more. In the four years of the Delta State women’s basketball program, they were two-time national champions. 

In 1976, women’s basketball became an Olympic sport, and Harris cemented history, scoring the game’s first points. During Harris’ senior year at Delta State, the team won its third national championship. Unlike the NCAA, there was no professional league for women. Harris wanted to keep playing, but the WNBA was non-existent. 

Harris ended up marrying her high school sweetheart, George Stewart. Though she was looking to settle down and start a family, Harris received a phone call from the NBA. It was the New Orleans Jazz on the line with an offer. Harris thought it was a publicity stunt and did not think she was good enough for the league. 

“Competing against a woman, yes. It’s a different story competing against a man,” Harris said in the New York Times documentary, “I said no to the NBA.”

Harris’s decision not to go to the NBA was not one she regrets. She moved home, got a coaching job where her basketball career started at Amanda Elzy High School and raised her children. Her son, “Christopher is a lawyer, Eddie has a master’s, Christina received a doctorate and Crystal has a doctorate in education, which she received from Delta State. They’re athletes, all of them,” Harris said.

Throughout her basketball career, Harris never read newspaper articles boasting her talent. Even with her success, she was well known for her humble disposition and work ethic. Harris is still the record-holder of the highest career points (2,891) and rebounds (1,662) at Delta State and was the first Black female to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. She was escorted by Oscar Robertson, who she idolized. The history of basketball will forever remember the name of Lusia Harris.