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Lusia “Lucy” Harris, subject of this year’s Oscar-shortlisted documentary short The Queen of Basketball and a trailblazer in the sport, died Tuesday in Mississippi. She was 66.
Her family confirmed her unexpected passing in a statement, and details were not provided about the cause of death. Their message highlighted the recent uplifting moments she had experienced, as the Ben Proudfoot-directed film, part of the New York Times Op-Docs series and counting Shaquille O’Neal as an executive producer, had been a source of new fans for Harris.
“The recent months brought Ms. Harris great joy, including the news of the upcoming wedding of her youngest son and the outpouring of recognition received by a recent documentary that brought worldwide attention to her story,” the message read, in part. “She will be remembered for her charity, for her achievements both on and off the court, and the light she brought to her community, the State of Mississippi, her country as the first woman ever to score a basket in the Olympics, and to women who play basketball around the world.”
Born Feb. 10, 1955, in Minter City, Miss., Harris played college basketball at Delta State University, where she won the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women national championship three years in a row, from 1975 to 1977.
During that time, she was a member of the U.S. women’s national basketball team that scored the silver medal at the 1976 Olympic Games, which marked the first year that women’s basketball was an Olympic event.
In 1977, she was selected by the New Orleans Jazz during the seventh round of the NBA draft, making her the first and only woman to ever have officially been drafted by the league. Harris declined to try out for the Jazz and never played in the NBA.
Harris went on to play for the Houston Angels in the Women’s Professional Basketball League during the 1979-80 season. In 1992, she became the first female college basketball player inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and she joined the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.
“She was a woman athlete, a black woman athlete and she’s been historically shortchanged and denied opportunities,” O’Neal told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year during an interview about The Queen of Basketball. “We just want the world to know [she] was the greatest ever. I just want women, especially female athletes, to see this.”
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