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Lusia Harris

Rarely in the annals of NBA history does a team pick a six-foot-three-inch center in the draft; even more rare does an NBA team draft a woman. But that is what the New Orleans Jazz did in the 1977 draft.

With the 137th pick in the 1977 draft the New Orleans Jazz drafted Lusia Harris. Harris was a well known product in the bayou having been a star at near by Delta State. While attended college in Cleveland, Mississippi, Harris had lead the Lady Statemen to 3 NCAA titles. She finished her career at Delta State as one of the winningest college players in history and was widely considered the best female player in the country.

Still, the pick was unorthodox. Many women had played at very high levels in college before, but none had even gotten the attention of a men's league. Harris herself was shocked by the pick. She thought it was a joke. "...Drafted by a Men's team?" was a quote from Harris taken from a Mississippi based news paper.


The Jazz which played only a few hundred miles from where Harris played college ball took the 6'3" center most likely as a publicity stunt. Harris had to be realistic about her chances, she was an inside player, with a poor jump-shot. At 6'3" she wouldn't have had a chance at playing center in the NBA. Harris was also pregnant at the time, which prevented her from attending training camp.

The Jazz taking Harris in the 7th round of the draft is still somewhat controversial. They had an 8th round pick that they could have still used. Harris was taken one pick after the Phoenix Suns took Alvin Scott. Four players drafted after Harris, Lars Hanson, Phil Drollinger, Ricky Marsh and John Olive, all played in the NBA. Though between the four the combined for 5 seasons and just 106 games.

The pick also highlighted the craziness that was the deep draft in the NBA. Harris was not the most unusual pick as people like Bruce Jenner, Carl Lewis, and an infant were all drafted by NBA teams. John Wayne was also drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, so it was not just an NBA thing either.

Harris is also not the first woman to be technically drafted by the NBA. in 1969 the Warriors drafted Denise Long, but that pick was immediately voided by the NBA. Harris' pick was never voided by the NBA and this she became the first woman ever to be drafted by a men's professional league. Harris also had more of an impact for the basketball community at large. Her pick was seen as something positive for women and just another step in the sexual revolution of the 1970s.

The drafting of Harris also helped bring about the long drafts that the NBA was known for. Though, it took another 10 years for the NBA to cut the draft down to just 7 rounds in 1985, and then just 3 in 1988 and finally the two rounds since 1989. The drafting of Harris was used as an example of why the multiple rounds of draft picks just did not work. The New Orleans Jazz were struggling at the time and some publicity could not hurt. The team had star power behind "Pistol" Pete Maravich, but not much else. They had just slumped their way through a 35-47 season and missed the playoffs. The team was new though, having just played 3 seasons in the NBA. But the team was horribly mismanaged. Maravich was run until he legitimately fell apart and in 1978 the team missed the playoffs due to him getting injured.

The Jazz mismanagement extended well into the draft as well, as the front office bungled draft pick and draft pick that would harm the franchise for decades to come. For their entire tenure in New Orleans, and not ever making the playoffs, the Jazz had just 2 first round picks. They used those picks on Rich Kelley and James Hardy. In their first six drafts in the NBA 15 of the 20 players drafted by the Jazz played less than 82 games in their NBA careers, and only 20 of their 55 picks even played in the NBA.

Harris likely missed out on a mess of a franchise by not playing for the Jazz. The 1978 Jazz were a small team having only one seven footer on their roster. at 6'3" Harris would have been the 5th shortest player on an already short team.

The drafting of Harris also helped bring about the long drafts that the NBA was known for. Though, it took another 10 years for the NBA to cut the draft down to just 7 rounds in 1985, and then just 3 in 1988 and finally the two rounds since 1989. The drafting of Harris was used as an example of why the multiple rounds of draft picks just did not work.

Oddly for Harris, being drafted by the New Orleans Jazz is just a footnote in her otherwise stellar career. She left Delta State with 15 of 18 statistical records, three national titles, a gold medal at the pan-am games, a silver medal in the 1976 Olympic games. After giving birth she went on to play professional basketball briefly in the 1979–80 season with the Houston Angels of the Women's Professional Basketball League (WBL). She was initially picked as the top free agent by the Angels in 1978, in the league's inaugural season.

Harris is now married and goes by her married name Lusia Harris-Stewart. Harris-Steward is currently a teacher in her home state of Mississippi, and has very little thought of ever returning to basketball in the way that she once did. she does coach sometimes, but as she puts it "...its nothing big, I just do it for the girls..."

 


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