As the 2024 NBA draft nears, and as we get closer to the 2024 Paris Olympics, there is a legendary basketball player that deserves to be mentioned. An otherworldly talent whose name is linked closely with some of the most historic records and achievements in all of basketball. It’s a player that every Utah Jazz fan should know — Lusia Harris.

Harris was a pioneer for women’s basketball. She won three consecutive national titles at Delta State University and was a three-time national tournament MVP. When women’s basketball was introduced as an Olympic sport in 1976, Harris was a member of Team USA’s first squad, winning a silver medal after becoming the first ever female Olympian to score a basket.

She is the only woman to have ever been officially drafted by an NBA team after the New Orleans Jazz selected her in the seventh round of the 1977 draft. In 1992, Harris became the first Black woman inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

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All of these achievements and all of the great things that Harris did on the court are a necessary component of her legacy that need to be remembered and celebrated by basketball fans everywhere.

But her legacy is even greater than what she did on the basketball court, which is the topic explored in a documentary short from the Utah Jazz that was released in March as part of the team’s celebration of Women’s History Month.

“I know she did a lot of great things, and we should be proud of those things, but what I’m most proud of is that she was our mom,” Christina Jordan says in the documentary.

Utah Jazz digital reporter and producer Nayo Campbell didn’t know who Harris was before she began working for the Jazz and was first introduced to her by watching another documentary, an Oscar-winning short produced by Stephen Curry and Shaquille O’Neal, titled “The Queen of Basketball.”

“Her nickname was Lucy and that’s my grandmother’s name, so I was like, OK, what is this story?” Campbell said. “Then I watch this Oscar-winning film and I’m like, ‘Why does no one talk about this?!’ I mean, I understand we’re in Utah and not New Orleans, but this is still a part of Jazz history. So I really wanted to tell the story and it just felt like this was like the beginning of the world knowing her story and I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. I wanted people to know about it.”

In 2022, not long after “The Queen of Basketball” was released, Harris unexpectedly died at the age of 66. As Campbell was thinking about Harris’ legacy and the story that had already been told, she decided to turn to Harris’ children to find out what their story of their mother was and ended up wanting to tell the story of Lusia Harris through the lens of her twin daughters, Christina Jordan and Crystal Washington.

The endeavor was one that felt important and necessary for Washington because the legacy of Harris as a mother is the one that had not been told yet.

Lusia Harris was the first female player ever selected in the NBA draft.
Lusia Harris, the only female player ever selected in the NBA draft, gets in some practice on the playground. Harris was selected by the New Orleans Jazz in the seventh round of the 1977 draft | Courtesy Lusia Harris family

“That’s the story that we know, that’s the Lucy Harris that we know,” Washington said. “You can look up everything else. You can research who scored the first Olympic point, who the first female players to be inducted were, you can research all of those things. But the only way you would know her impact on her children is through our voices. So we thought it was incredibly important to give her her due. I mean, we’re where we are because of her.”

After Harris turned down a chance to try out for the Jazz following the 1977 draft, she dedicated her life to education and later to being a mother.

Despite struggling with depression and bipolar disorder throughout her life, her four children saw a resilient woman who persisted and never gave up. She was supported by family and gave all the love and support that they would ever need and her children all credit their successes in life with the foundation of love and the importance of education that their mother had instilled in them.

“She showed us and modeled for us that if you can set your mind to it, you can do it,” Washington said.

After earning a master’s degree in teaching from the University of Mississippi, Washington completed a doctorate of education from her mother’s alma mater, Delta State University. Her twin sister has a Ph.D. in clinical health science from the University of Mississippi. Their oldest brother, George Eddie Stewart Jr., earned a master’s degree from Western Kentucky University and their younger brother, Christopher Stewart, received his J.D. from Notre Dame Law School.

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Continuing to show and model for future generations is one of the ways that Harris’ children are sharing her legacy.

Lusia Harris Stewart shows off some of her medals and awards from her basketball career, Jan. 10, 2002, in her home in Greenwood, Miss. Harris, who was the only woman to be drafted by an NBA team and scored the first points in women's basketball history at the Olympics, died Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, her family announced. She was 66. | Tony Krausz/The Delta Democrat-Times via AP, File

“You’re incredibly proud, but you’re also responsible for carrying forth her legacy and responsible for ensuring that our own children and other children who came from backgrounds like hers know her story,” Washington said. “We’re incredibly proud and we’re honored to be her children, but also there is a level of responsibility to ensure that future generations know that opportunities exist in women’s sports in general because of people like her.”

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Most importantly, what Harris’ daughters want the world to know is that Lusia Harris was more than a basketball player and more than a pioneer and record breaker and history maker. She was also a teammate, a friend, a mother and so much more.

“A lot of times when people talk about her at Delta State, they fail to mention that she was the homecoming queen, they failed to mention that she was a charter member of a Black sorority,” Washington said. “She wasn’t just a basketball pioneer. She was a philanthropist and a pioneer in general ... I’m just glad that her story is continuing to be told.”

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