Lusia Harris: The Only Woman Drafted By an NBA Team


Lusia Harris

Credit: NBA.com


Lusia Harris, a 6'3" Center from Delta State University, was officially the first and only woman drafted by an NBA team. The word 'officially is bolded as before Harris, Denise Long, a 5'11" Forward, was chosen by the San Franciso Warriors in the 1969 NBA Draft in the 13th round. However, then commissioner, Walter Kennedy, vetoed the pick as the league didn't allow women to play.


On the other hand, Harris' pick wasn't vetoed. Harris was chosen by the New Orleans Jazz (now Utah Jazz) in the 1977 NBA Draft as the 137th pick. However, Harris showed no interest in playing in the NBA as she was pregnant. Harris expressed shock when she found out, thinking it was a joke, stating, "drafted by a Men's team?"

Looking back at this pick, the Jazz might have chosen Harris as a publicity stunt. From 1974-83, the Jazz had a negative regular-season record, and their only notable player was Pete Maravich. The Jazz also constantly faced financial problems. The city had an 11% amusement tax, the highest in the United States, and couldn't find local corporate support.


In addition, the 1977 NBA Draft was filled with unusual draft picks. After the Jazz chose Lusia Harris, the Sacramento Kings chose Bruce Jenner (now known as Caitlyn Jenner)! Even weirder, the Los Angeles Lakers tried to draft Scooby-Doo and a chair...

Even if this was just a publicity stunt, this pick was revolutionary and a positive step forward for gender equality and women's empowerment. This pick was amid the Women's Rights Movement (i.e., second-wave feminism). In addition, if the Jazz were 'serious' in choosing a player to add onto their roster, Lusia Harris was probably their best choice.

After Lusia Harris, there were still 33 picks left. Amongst the 33 picks, only four of them played in the NBA: Lars Hansen (151st Pick), Ralph Drollinger (152nd Pick), Ricky Marsh (165th Pick), and John Olive (168th Pick). Out of the four, the best player, Lars Hansen, only played one season and averaged:


5.1 Points, 3.9 Rebounds, 0.9 Assists, 0.1 Steals, 0.1 Blocks (and 1.9 Personal Fouls)

50.9 FG%, 58.1 FT%

14 Minutes


However, back to reality, although Harris would dominate the WNBA, it would be a different story in the NBA. Her skillset as a 6'3" Center is not going to translate well into the NBA.


Harris probably wouldn't have been able to play in the NBA with her skillset. She would have dominated in the WNBA, but being 6'3" with the skillset of a Center is not going to translate into the NBA. The average height of a Center was 6'10"! There's no way she could have outrebounded or posted up any of the Centers back in the 70s (ex: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Artis Gilmore, Dave Cowens, etc.).

Regardless of whether or not Lusia Harris would have been good in the NBA, what we do know is that she was a beast in college and overseas.

 

Lusia Harris and Delta State University

Before getting into Lusia Harris' college basketball career with Delta State University, we should quickly glance at Harris' high school basketball career. Harris played at Amanda Elzy High School under Coach Conway Stewart. According to Harris, Stewart helped master her post-game, which helped counterbalance her lack of dribbling and passing skills.


During her time at Amanda Elzy High School, Harris won MVP three times in a row (1971-73), was the team captain, and made the Mississippi All-Star team! In one game, she scored 46 POINTS and led her school to the state tournament!


After high school, Harris initially wanted to attend Alcorn State University. However, Melvin Hemphill, the recruiter for the head coach of Delta State University, Margaret Wade, asked Harris if she would be willing to attend the school.


If Harris ended up attending Alcorn State, her basketball career would have probably ended then. I can't find out when the Women's Basketball Team started, but Alcorn State's Men's Basketball Team didn't begin until 1977. By then, Harris already graduated from college.


Lusia Harris' Head Coach, Margaret Wade

Like Lusia Harris, her head coach, Margaret Wade, was one of Delta State's best female basketball players. Wade for Delta State in 1930-32. Within those three seasons, Wade was named the team's captain and MVP. She also earned All-Conference honors! However, Delta State disbanded the program during her third season because it was "too strenuous for women."


Although her playing career would be cut short, Wade would further cement herself as one of basketball's greatest through her coaching. From 1935-54, Wade coached Cleveland High School and ended up with a 453-89 (83.6 W/L%) record. In Wade's last fifteen years with the team, they won the Bolivar Country Championships and made the North Mississippi tournament fourteen times.

Wade would return to her alma matter in 1973 and coached Delta State's women's basketball team for the next six seasons. Within those six seasons, the team would go 157-23 (87.2%). There isn't a single coach who has coached at least ten seasons with a W/L% higher than Wade's. The next highest W/L% is Mark Few with an 83.4 W/L%.


Since retiring, Wade's been inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame, International Women's Sports Hall of Fame, Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, and Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. There's even an award named after Wade, the Wade Trophy. The award is given to the best women's basketball player in NCAA D1.


Now Back to Lusia Harris...


Lusia Harris' freshman season with Delta State was lackluster. The team ended with a 16-2 (88.9 W/L%) record. This seems like a good record, and it is, but the team wouldn't qualify for the national tournament after finishing third in the regional tournament. By normal standards, this was an extremely successful season, but as we'll see in the following three seasons, this season might as well be trash.


Delta State would win every regular-season game in the following season (1974-75) (32-0). They were the only team in both men's and women's basketball that had an undefeated record. In college men's basketball, only four schools have had an undefeated record: UCLA, Indiana, North Carolina, and San Francisco.


Delta State would make it to the AIAW (now NCAA) Finals, going against Immaculata University. Delta State won, 90-81. Lusia Harris put up 32 points and 16 rebounds in the Final! In addition, throughout the tournament, Harris averaged 34.5 points and 15.8 rebounds per game during the tournament! With a stat-line like that, it isn't surprising that Harris won the AIAW Tournament MVP. She would also be selected to the All-American First Team.


The following season (1975-76) was also a cakewalk for Delta State and Lusia Harris. This season, their regular season record was 33-1 (97.1 W/L%). Once again, Delta State would make the Finals and play against Immaculata University. The game was closer, but Delta State still won, 69-64. Harris would once again put up a monster stat-line, recording 30 points and 18 rebounds. Harris scored 43.5% of the team's points!


As for her regular season stat-line, Harris averaged 31.2 points and 15.1 rebounds while shooting 61.9% from the field. In total, she scored 1,060 points, leading the nation in scoring. To put into perspective how amazing Harris' stat-line was, in the 2021 NCAA College Women's Basketball season, here are the players leading in PPG and RPG:

  • Caitlin Clark: 26.6 Points Per Game

  • Natalie Kucowski: 13.3 Rebounds Per Game

In a regular-season game against Tennesse Tech, Harris put up 58 POINTS!


Her last season (1976-77) went the same as the previous two. A tremendous regular-season record, 32-3 (91.4 W/L%), and another win in the AIAW Finals. The only difference is that Delta State went against Lousiana State and won 68-55. Lusia Harris put up 23 points and 16 rebounds in this game, her 'worst' performances in the Finals.


Lusia Harris won AIAW Tournament MVP and was selected to the All-American First team in the last two seasons as well. This season, she also won the Honda Sports Award and Broderick Cup, awards presented to the best women's college basketball player by 1,000 NCAA administrators. Harris is the FIRST person to win both awards!

By the end of her college career, Lusia Harris had 2,981 points and 1,662 rebounds and averaged 25.9 points and 14.5 rebounds while shooting 63.3% from the field and 66.3% from the free-throw line. She also graduated with 15/18 of Delta State's records. Her overall record in college was 109-6.


Lusia Harris' Overseas Career and Future

In 1975, Lusia Harris was selected to the United States National Team for the FIBA World Championship and Pan American Games. Unfortunately, the team played pretty badly in the FIBA World Championship, going 4-3 and ending in eighth place.


Harris and the USA Team would redeem themselves in the Pan American Games. The team didn't lose a single game and won the gold medal. This was their first gold medal since 1963. Within the seven games that the team played, the average margin of victory was 34.4 POINTS!


The following season (1976), Lusia Harris would join the United States Olympics team. In their first game against Japan, Harris scored the first-ever point in a women's Olympic basketball tournament. This was the first year that the Olympics had women's basketball. The team went 3-2, ending up in second place behind the Soviet Union team. Harris didn't play as well as she did in college, only averaging 15.2 points and 7.0 rebounds.

After graduating from college, representing the United States in international women's basketball, and becoming the first woman to be drafted by the NBA, Lusia Harris would join the Houston Angels, a women's basketball league, for the 1979-80 season. She was initially supposed to join the Angels in the 1978-79 season, but after hearing about the $3,000 - $5,000 salaries, she decided to sit out.

Unfortunately, there's no information about Harris' stats during her time with the Angels, but she was the number one free agent for the Angels in 1978.


Harris joined the Angels at a pretty bad time since, in the season before, the Angels just came off a Championship. However, in the season that Harris joined, the team went 19-14 (57.6 W/L%) and got knocked out in the Quarterfinals. In addition, the team would disband the same seaosn—terrible timing.


After one season with the Angels, the only time that Harris would be seen on the hardwood was as a coach. Harris would return to her alma matters, Delta State University and Amanda Elzy High School as a coach. Harris would also coach Texas Southern University for two seasons.

Here were all the accolades Lusia Harris received after her professional basketball career:

  • 1983: Delta State Hall of Fame

  • 1992: Naismith Hall of Fame (first African-American woman inducted)

  • 1999: Women's Basketball Hall of Fame

  • International Women's Sports Hall of Fame

This year (2021), Lusia Harris got her own documentary, The Queen of Basketball!

In an interview with Kevin Clark of The Undefeated, Harris mentioned that her favorite team were the Phoenix Mercury. The Mercury are a relatively mediocre team, and they aren't based in her hometown, so I'm surprised that the Phoenix Mercury is her favorite team. She also said that LeBron James and Kevin Durant are her favorite NBA players!

 

Sources:

https://theundefeated.com/features/the-queen-of-basketball-lucy-harris-finally-gets-her-flowers/


https://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-men/article/2021-03-31/7-undefeated-college-basketball-national-champions-ncaa-tournament-era


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lusia_Harris


https://theundefeated.com/features/the-queen-of-basketball-lucy-harris-finally-gets-her-flowers/


https://nbahoopsonline.com/Players/LusiaHarris.html


https://www.thehoopsgeek.com/average-nba-height/


https://gostatesmen.com/sports/2008/8/28/GEN_0828082120.aspx