Lucy Harris

Lucy Harris was drafted by the New Orleans Jazz in 1977 out of Delta State University 

Lucy Harris got the phone call so long ago that she can't even remember who exactly it was that called her.

It was 41 years ago, the next-to-last round of the 1977 NBA draft, back when the league's draft consisted of eight rounds instead of two.

The phone call made history.

Harris had been selected in the seventh round of the NBA draft by the New Orleans Jazz, becoming the first woman to officially ever be selected.

The San Francisco Warriors selected Denise Long eight years earlier, but the league voided that pick, so Harris is considered the first woman to officially be chosen.

Harris never made her way from her native Mississippi to the Big Easy to try to suit up for the Jazz, but she still takes a little pride in having her name called that year.

"That's been so long ago," Lucy Harris- Stewart said Monday. "I was shocked, surprised. But I always thought it was just a publicity thing. I knew I couldn't compete with the men. But I was quite honored to receive that honor."

There were 170 players selected in that draft. Harris was No. 137 overall, meaning 33 men were chosen after her. Billy Reynolds, who held the career scoring record at Northwestern State for 40 years before he was surpassed in 2017, was chosen one spot behind Harris. Bruce Jenner, who had won the decathlon in the Olympics a year before, was drafted two spots behind Harris.

Harris had played in that same Olympics, helping the United States win a silver medal in Montreal. She scored the first two points ever in an Olympics women's basketball game.

But it was how she had dominated in college that got the nation's attention.

A 6-foot-3 center, Harris led Delta State University to three consecutive national championships, including beating LSU in 1977 for the third title. She averaged 25.9 points and 14.5 rebounds, including one game scoring what was then a record 58 points in a game. Delta State was to women's college basketball then what UConn is to it now.

Harris, who lives in Greenwood, Miss., says it's hard to say how the teams she played on would have fared against today's UConn teams.

"It's hard to compare," she said. "The game has changed a lot. The women now are a lot taller. All the women now are 6-3. I'm 6-3. But 6-3 is a guard now."

Harris, now 63, gets around in a wheelchair, the results of wear and tear on her knees over the years. She played professionally in China and Japan as well as playing in the Houston Angels of the Women's Professional Basketball League.

"I'm not as young as I used to be," she said with a laugh. "I played about 20 years of pro (ball) and I guess that's why my knees are gone."

But she more than left her mark on the game and is considered one of its pioneers. She was one of the first two women inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame and one of the inaugural members of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. She's also in the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame.

"It's great to have come along during that time and to have made such an impact on the women's game," Harris said.

On that draft night in 1977, she made the men take notice too.


Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.