Whomever the Jazz draft this Thursday probably won't generate much national publicity. Only the highest picks get noticed.

Still, the Jazz have had their moments. Deron Williams drew significant attention three years ago when selected No. 3. The team's highest pick ever was Darrell Griffith, the No. 2 choice in 1980.

Dominique Wilkins was drafted No. 3 in 1982, but immediately traded. Thurl Bailey was a No. 7 selection the next year. John Stockton and Karl Malone were picked 16th and 13th, respectively, but didn't generate much early national buzz.

Yet there was another Jazz draftee who commanded widespread acclaim. A player now in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

It was a Southern-born, groundbreaking star who changed the way the game was viewed.

No, it wasn't Pete Maravich. He was drafted by Atlanta.

It was Lusia Harris-Stewart, known in her glory days as Lucy Harris, the only woman ever drafted by the NBA.

At a time when "Charlie's Angels," "Bionic Woman" and "Police Woman" were spinning tales of strong, independent women, Harris was making a statement of her own.

And it wasn't just TV drama.

Before Nancy Lieberman and Ann Meyers — and certainly before Lisa Leslie and Tamika Catchings — everyone loved Lucy.

· · · · ·

As good as Harris was — leading Delta State to three AIAW national championships — drafting her with the 137th pick in 1977 was a gimmick, and she knew it. She has since said that at 6-foot-3 she was big enough to dominate the women's game but too small for anything but guard in the NBA.

Didn't matter, at least as far as publicity was concerned. If Pepper Anderson could survive in the testosterone-drenched world of cops and cars, Harris could make a mark of some kind in the NBA.

She was a symbol of how far women could go in sports.

Though former coach and G.M. Frank Layden didn't join the Jazz for another two years, when they moved from New Orleans to Utah, he knows all the stories and is a master at telling them.

"She was better than anybody they had at the time, other than Pistol Pete (Maravich)," says Layden, only half jokingly.

He says he understands the Jazz drafting Harris.

"In my mind, it's show business, and if you can put people in the seats ..."

As it turned out, Harris never played for the Jazz. She skipped training camp.

"I had to be realistic about that and just thought it was a publicity thing," she said in a 1999 interview for the Center for Oral History at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Besides, there was another reason she didn't report for camp.

She was pregnant.

"We got two players for the price of one," says Layden. "Not only was she the first woman ever drafted, she was the first pregnant woman ever drafted."

Seems the famous Lucy Harris was breaking ground all over the place.

She went on to be inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, winning a silver medal with the 1976 Olympic team.

Whenever women's basketball is mentioned, so is she.

Just four years after Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in tennis, Harris was a different shoot-for-the-stars kind of story.

A story just dying to get out.

· · · · ·

So you have your Golden Griffs, your Thurl Baileys, your Malones, Stocktons and Williamses.

Good stories and good draft picks, one and all.

But none made a better draft story than Harris.

Thirty-one years later, Harris-Stewart couldn't be reached for this article. Calls to her home in Greenwood, Miss., said her phone was no longer in service.

She spent her career teaching and coaching in the Greenville area, but secretaries at two high schools where she worked said they didn't know how to reach her.

Two years ago, the Greenville Commonwealth reported she was in a wheelchair, the result of knee problems. It said she had growing medical bills and a fundraising drive was under way to help pay for her knee surgery.

Her momentary connection to the Jazz seems far away.

Yet in a quirky way, she will eternally be connected with a team half a continent away. She has even been presented with vintage Jazz uniform jerseys.

Which is only right.

There aren't many players who can say that without ever suiting up, they helped put a team on the map.


E-mail: [email protected]