For the children of Lusia “Lucy” Harris, the woman at the center of The Queen of Basketball, the prospect of the upcoming Oscar ceremony brings a feeling of joy, along with a measure of sadness.
“It’s bittersweet,” admits Christina Jordan, one of Harris’s twin daughters.
The short documentary directed by Ben Proudfoot finally gave Harris her due as one of the greatest to ever play the game of basketball – male or female. Resisting a strong inclination toward modesty, Harris bashfully told Proudfoot about her historic accomplishments – winning three national championships in the 1970s for Delta State University in Mississippi; scoring the first points in Olympic Women’s Basketball competition history at the ‘76 Games in Montreal; becoming the first woman officially drafted by an NBA team, and induction into the basketball hall of fame.
Harris got to attend the world premiere of The Queen of Basketball at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, and she knew it made the Oscar documentary shortlist in December 2021. But on January 18, less than three weeks before the film went on to earn an Oscar nomination, Harris died unexpectedly at the age of 66. Her children take comfort that millions are becoming aware of their mom through the documentary.
“One of the things that I was most inspired by watching the film is knowing she had the opportunity to tell her own story, in her words, in her voice,” Crystal Stewart Washington tells Deadline. “And that’s something that I know a lot of people don’t have when they lose someone. I mean, her legacy forever lives on in that, and we have that to go back to. We have her voice, her face.”
The film was revelatory for Harris’s kids because they say their mother rarely spoke about her athletic achievements.
“She was so humble,” Eddie Stewart, the eldest sibling, says. “We knew a little bit at a time the things that she did, but we didn’t really understand the significance, especially growing up… She just didn’t talk about it a whole lot. She would just say, ‘I knew I could put the ball in the hoop and I knew I could play, and I was pretty good at it.’ And that’s that.”
“I would say she probably talked about us more than she talked about herself,” Crystal says. “She was just so humble about [her accomplishments], which was so weird because, to see her dominate on the court, it’s like it was two different personas, you know?”
Archive footage in The Queen of Basketball shows Harris taking the ball in the post and scoring at will. But when she ran the court she often kept her arms pinned down at her sides – a curiously modest posture that made it appear she didn’t want to take up extra space.
“I don’t know how else to say this — I hope it’s not a rude way of saying – but she actually ran [the court] in a very, like, feminine manner,” Chris Stewart, the youngest sibling, observes. “I think I was a teenager when I realized, ‘Mom is like a real, real athlete.’ I came home from college one time and I was like, ‘Mom, you could jump and you’re 6’3”. Did you ever dunk in a game? And if not, why not?’ And I remember her saying, ‘It wasn’t ladylike.’ I was like, ‘You could dunk and you didn’t because it wasn’t ladylike — not because you couldn’t on a consistent basis.’”
Two other basketball legends joined The Queen of Basketball as executive producers – hall of famer Shaquille O’Neal and Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry. In fact, Curry wore lavender-hued basketball shoes emblazoned with the words “Queen Lucy” – in honor of Harris — on court Wednesday night (unfortunately, he sprained a ligament in his left foot during a scramble for the ball in the game against the Celtics). The family says the support from Steph and Shaq means a lot to them.
“It really shows that they understand the history of the game,” Eddie comments. “And they understand the people that paved the way for them.”
One moment from Harris’s life that stands out to her children took place while Harris was enrolled at Delta State, the college located in her home state.
“I still think it is absolutely fascinating that this woman was in the 1970s one of the few Black people on campus and she became Homecoming Queen at Delta State,” Chris says. “She [was nominated] against white women [for queen] and won… Just to be a family from rural Mississippi, that’s one of the things that kind of blows my mind — the ‘70s in Mississippi, to do something like that as a dark-skinned Black woman, I’m just like, that’s wild.”
Crystal adds, “Just to make a decision to go to a school that had allowed Black students to enter only like five years prior, it’s a major accomplishment. Just thinking about what type of mindset you have to have to even want to go into that environment – she had an opportunity to go to Alcorn State, which is an HBCU. But she decided to go to Delta State.”
Lucy Harris earned a lot of cheers on the court during her playing days, and the announcement of the Oscar nomination for the film about her generated its own decibel levels.
“I watched the announcement with Ben [Proudfoot] and his team, and there were definitely a bunch of screams and just excitement,” Crystal recalls. “Again, wishing that she was there to see that take place… Every time something happened, I know for me, the first person I would call is her: ‘Man, this cool thing happened!’ You want to share that moment with her. You just wish that she was there, but definitely proud of her.”
Eddie, the eldest, coaches basketball and teaches physical education. He was at school when the Oscar nominations were announced.
“I wasn’t going to miss it,” he says. “It was very emotional. I had to hold those tears back because I don’t want to cry in front of my kids. But it’s all awesome.”
Crystal adds, “My reaction was, ‘Oh Ben, that’s so cool!’ Then after that I just remembered going, ‘Look at her. She’s still reaching all of these different accomplishments, setting all those different bars, even after leaving us.’”
Proudfoot has arranged to fly Lucy Harris’s children to L.A. for the Academy Awards. Now comes the decision for them of what to wear on the red carpet.
“It’s pretty simple for guys. It’s like — tux, and that’s about it,” Chris says. “So it’s not too hard. I’m like, ‘I haven’t worn a tux in a while. Let me go try this thing on finally.’”
Twins Crystal and Christina will be investing plenty of time in their Oscar looks, they say, just as their mother would have wished.
“I have been looking for dresses since” the Oscar nomination announcement, Crystal says. “The one thing I know that my mom would want is for us to look our absolute best. She would say, ‘Make sure you have a little makeup and make sure you put some blush on your face and use some lipstick.’ I’m definitely going to represent for her.”
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