Lusia Harris, ‘Queen of Basketball,’ Dies at 66

Lusia Harris, ‘Queen of Basketball,’ Dies at 66

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Lusia Mae Harris was born on Feb. 10, 1955, and grew up in Minter City, Miss. Her parents, Willie and Ethel (Gilmore) Harris, were sharecroppers. Lusia picked cotton but also played basketball with her brothers in their backyard. She molded her game, especially her defensive skills, at Amanda Elzy High School, in Greenwood, before attending Delta State.

By the time she was chosen for the 1976 United States Olympic team, Ms. Harris was a star. In addition to Summitt, the squad included Nancy Lieberman and Ann Meyers, two future Basketball Hall of Famers, and Gail Marquis. Harris scored the first points in women’s Olympic history in the opening game against Japan, which the United States lost.

One of her biggest challenges was playing against Juliana Semenova, the Soviet’s 7-foot center.

“She is so much taller, so much bigger and she didn’t jump,” Harris told the Kentucky Women’s Basketball Oral History last year. “All she had to do was extend her arms. And I mean, I’m only 6-3. The thing I figured out is that I would beat her down the court because she wasn’t that fast.”

The Soviets routed the Americans, 112-77, with Semenova scoring 32 to Harris’s 18. The United States team nonetheless departed Montreal with a silver medal after defeating Czechoslovakia.

In five games, Harris averaged 15.2 points and 7 rebounds.

Harris graduated with a bachelor’s degree in health, physical education and recreation. But she had few opportunities to play professional basketball. The W.N.B.A. was two decades away. The men got the opportunities she craved.

“Yeah, they’re millionaires, famous,” she said in “The Queen of Basketball.” “But I wanted to grow up and shoot that ball just like they would shoot it, and I did.”

Harris worked as an admissions counselor and assistant women’s basketball coach at Delta State; played briefly for the Houston Angels of the short-lived Women’s Professional Basketball League during the 1979-80 season; and coached the Texas Southern University women’s basketball team from 1984 to 1986.


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