George Stewart, Jr., the oldest child of Lucy Harris, reads a letter in her honor during her funeral service on Feb. 5 at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss. Credit: Molly Minta/Mississippi Today

CLEVELAND — More than 150 people paid tribute to Lusia “Lucy” Stewart-Harris Saturday at Delta State University’s Walter Sillers Coliseum, the arena where the “queen of basketball” had played. 

The two-hour ceremony underscored the impact that Harris, the powerful 6’3 center, had on every community she was a part of: Minter City, her hometown; Delta State University; the Mississippi Delta region; and her four children and their ten grandchildren. 

Harris was remembered not only as a basketball legend, but as a humble, loving mother. 

“I want everyone to know that Lucy Harris from the Mississippi Delta, land of cotton and long roads through fields, (was) the best basketball player in the world,” said Sen. David Jordan of Greenwood. “She’s the best. She’s a record maker and a record breaker.” 

Lusia “Lucy” Harris

Harris passed away on Jan. 18 at age 66. Her silver coffin was adorned with colorful bouquets, and a portrait of her sat underneath the banners commemorating her three national titles. 

In 1975, Harris was the only Black woman on Delta State’s Lady Statesmen when she led the team to its first national title, an achievement she’d repeat two more times before graduating. She scored the first-ever basket in Women’s Olympic basketball history, and in 1977, she became the first — and so far only — woman to receive an official offer to play for the NBA. Pregnant with her first child, Harris turned down the offer and took a job coaching basketball at Amanda Elzy High School in Greenwood, where she learned to play the game.

During the ceremony, several lawmakers presented proclamations in Harris’ honor. Inez Biles, the chairperson of Minter City, said the community plans to erect a historical marker for Harris. Christopher Stewart, Harris’ youngest child, said that Barack and Michelle Obama had sent the family a letter. 

Harris was humble and gracious about her accomplishments, her children said as they shared some lessons she had taught them. Christopher talked about all the ways his mother was first for him: the first person who taught him the meaning of unconditional love, the first person who taught him to dream, to preserve and to sacrifice. Harris’ stepson Antonio Harris recalled that she had the “sneakiest little laugh.” 

Christina Jordan, who is Harris’ youngest daughter, talked about the time when Harris encouraged her to pursue her love for chemistry. Crystal Washington, who is older than Christina by two minutes, said that her mother’s favorite saying was, “if you can dream it, you can do it.” 

“If a kid from Minter City, Mississippi, can grow to touch millions, there is nothing that is stopping you from doing the same, okay?” Crystal said. “So farewell mother, farewell my queen.” 

George Stewart, Jr., Harris’s oldest and tallest son, read a letter titled “Just Mama to Me.” 

“She was a tall, strong woman,” he said. She was “generous with her time and resources, humble and confident at the same time, but just Mama to me.” 

“She never boasted about her basketball playing days to us,” he said. “We saw the pictures, the newspaper clippings, and we saw her accolades, but she didn’t say much. The only thing she would say is I can go out and shoot the basketball in the hoop. She was just Mama to me.” 

“She was a Delta from the Delta that went to Delta State,” he said, tearing up. “A true queen, a hall of famer, a humanitarian, a sister, an aunt, a friend, but most importantly, she was just Mama to me.” 

READ MORE: Why did an NBA team draft Lucy Harris? A Mississippi guy was involved.

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Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today. She works in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on investigating higher education. Originally from Melbourne Beach, Florida, Molly reported on public housing and prosecutors in her home state and worked as a fact-checker at The Nation before joining Mississippi Today. Her story on Mississippi's only class on critical race theory was a finalist for the Education Writers Association National Awards for Education Reporting in 2023 in the feature reporting category.