USA Basketball Mourns the Loss of Women’s Basketball Pioneer Lusia Harris
USA Basketball mourns the loss of Olympic silver medalist and women's basketball pioneer Lusia Harris, who passed away on Jan. 18 at the age of 66.
Harris was a 1976 Olympic silver medalist, scored the first points in Olympic women's basketball history and became the first Black woman inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.
A four-time USA Basketball team member, Harris first played for USA Basketball in 1975 when she was named to the USA World Championship Team. While the U.S. squad finished with a 4-3 record and in eighth place, it provided the USA some good preparation for the Pan American Games, held two months later in Mexico City. At the 1975 Pan Am Games, the USA rolled to a 7-0 record and collected the gold medal. In capturing gold, the U.S. women ended 12 years of frustration at the Pan Ams and marked the end of Brazil's dominance in the event.
One year later, Harris was selected to the USA squad that was tasked with qualifying the nation for the 1976 Olympic Games. Because of its eighth-place finish at the 1975 Worlds, the United States was not an automatic entry into the six-team Olympic tournament. Owning a 4-0 record heading into the final game, Harris chipped in 12 points to aid the USA to a 76-75 victory over Bulgaria to secure the USA’s spot in Montreal.
The USA played Japan in the historic first game of the first Olympic women’s basketball tournament, which was played utilizing a round-robin format between the six teams with no gold medal game.
The first person to score in the opening game would go down in history. As fate would have it, it was none other than Harris who notched the first points ever for women’s basketball in the Olympics. She went on to record 17 points and seven rebounds in the opener, which was an 84-71 setback.
Not to be deterred, the USA won its next two games by double-digit margins but was downed by the USSR in its fourth contest.
Meeting Czechoslovakia and in need of a win in order to secure the silver medal, the U.S. broke open the tight contest in the second half to claim an 83-67 win, behind a team-high 17 points from Harris, the USA finished the inaugural Olympic women’s basketball tournament with the silver medal. Harris not only scored the first Olympic points, she led the team in points and rebounds, averaging 15.2 points and 7.0 boards a game.
In all, Harris claimed two gold medals and one silver medal over two summers and four USA Basketball teams.
Harris also was the only woman ever drafted by an NBA team after being selected with the 137th overall pick by the New Orleans Jazz in 1977.
A three-time All-American at Delta State University, Harris led her teams to a 109-6 record and earned three-straight AIAW national titles, earning MVP honors in each championship year. She wrapped up her collegiate career with 2,981 points and 1,662 rebounds.
A documentary short film called “The Queen of Basketball” was recently produced about Harris’s exploits on the hardwood and directed by Ben Proudfoot. It already has received two awards, Best Short Documentary at the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards and Best Documentary Short at the Palm Springs International ShortFest.