Prior to the days of the WNBA, there was a woman named Lusia Harris. Harris was 6-foot-3 and played college basketball at Delta State University in Mississippi. In college, Harris guided Delta Tate to three state national Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (IAW) championships. She represented the United States’ national team and earned a silver medal in 1976. In 1977, she was selected in the seventh round of the NBA draft by the New Orleans Jazz, making her the first woman ever drafted by the NBA. Or did it?
Lusia Harris’ career at Delta State
To put it in simple terms, Lusia Harris was dominant in college. At Delta State University, Harris helped the Lady Statesmen compile a 109-6 record. In her senior year, Harris scored 23 points and brought down 16 rebounds in the championship game, a 68-55 victory over Louisiana State.
For her career, Harris finished with 2,981 points and averaged 25.9 points per game in four seasons. She also averaged 14.5 points per game throughout her college career and had a field-goal shooting percentage of 63 percent.
All the opponents knew what the Lady Statesmen were going to do — give the ball to Lusia — so they stepped on her toes, scratched, elbowed, shouldered, and shoved her. “My way of getting back was on the boards. Or I’d say, ‘OK, you do that again and I’ll do you back.’ We filled the Coliseum every game. We had people squeezed around the floor.”
The New Orleans Jazz select Harris in the 7th round in the NBA draft
With the 137th pick in the 1977 NBA draft, the New Orleans Jazz selected Lusia Harris with their seventh-round pick. Harris was drafted only one spot behind a forward named Alvin Scott, who ended up playing eight seasons for the Phoenix Suns. She was selected ahead of 36 other players in the draft
Harris never played for the Jazz nor did she ever anticipate playing for the team. It was later reported that she was pregnant at the time of her selection and was not able to attend training camp.
Years after the Jazz took Harrs in the draft, Jazz coach Frank Layden said Harris was “better than anybody [New Orleans] had at the time, other than Pete Maravich.” Layden also joked that because she was pregnant at the time of the draft, the Jazz should get the rights to her unborn child. “We got two players for the price of one,” Layden said.
Was Harris the first woman drafted by an NBA team?
Eight years before Lusia Harris was drafted by the New Orleans Jazz, a young woman named Denise Long was selected in the 13th round of the 1969 draft by the San Francisco Warriors.
Long was a high school basketball legend in Iowa and finished her high school career as the nation’s leading scorer with 6,250 points. Long was selected by the Warriors, but Commissioner Walter Kennedy quickly voided the pick when the Warriors had no intention of playing her with the men.
“We were serious,” claimed Frank Mieuli, the owner and president of the Warriors. “She is supposed to be very good,” Mieuli said, adding, “She scored 93 points.”
Miss Long was understandably disappointed. “I think I could have played with them,” the tall mid-western girl said. Asked what she thought about being drafted, Miss Long replied, “I think it’s kinda’ cute.”
With Commissioner Kennedy voiding the Warriors’ draft pick of Long, technically Lusia Harris is the first and only woman drafted by the NBA.