If you were to make a list of some of the greatest living American basketball legends, the names of Jordan, Shaq and Magic Johnson would probably be first to mind, but there’s one name most lists would be missing…that of Lusia “Lucy” Harris. The first and only woman ever drafted to the NBA, Harris was a pioneer who accomplished so much in her short career, before prioritizing her mental health and her family over future opportunities. When Ben Proudfoot decided to capture her story in The Queen of Basketball, he couldn’t have foreseen the importance mental health in sports would have gained in the recent months, making his documentary, and Harris’ journey, even more relevant and important than ever.
“Lucy’s story was much more than just a basketball story”
After being made aware of Lucy’s story by a coworker, Proudfoot embarked on a deep Google dive into Harris and upon discovering all her impressive exploits, he was left wondering: “How I had never heard of her, and where she was today”. So, he went down to Mississippi to meet her and was instantly captivated by her tale. “Lucy’s story was much more than just a basketball story, and Lucy far more than an elite athlete and pioneer, but a gifted and open storyteller with a clarion memory”, he shared with us.
Lucy’s charisma is undeniable and the way Proudfoot films her, with the framing constantly changing, adds energy to her already entertaining and compelling recounting of her life story. As Proudfoot says, she has a knack for storytelling and infuses her narration with both vulnerability and humour, which only adds to the power and authenticity of her story. The talking-head moments of the film really foster a convivial and intimate atmosphere, making the audience feel like Lucy is sharing her story one-to-one over a nice hot cup of tea. Behind her eyes, it is easy to spot her passion for the sport, a certain amount of mischief and above all an infectious positive energy.
Finding the archival footage, especially from the games, was no easy task for Proudfoot and it’s largely down to an archivist at the Delta State University that the director and his team got everything they needed, and then some. “From dozens of uncatalogued bankers boxes in the back corner of the DSU vault, our team digitized nearly ten thousand film negatives and sixteen thousand feet of film”, Proudfoot explains. Being able to include this footage in the film allows us to embark on this trip down memory lane with visuals that perfectly accompany Lucy’s narration. Watching the games with her commentary truly feels like a treat…you have to see all the nuns to believe it!
The Queen of Basketball is Proudfoot’s third film we have featured on S/W, following on from The Lost Astronaut and the Oscar-nominated A Concerto is a Conversation. In line with his NYT Op-Docs collaboration “Almost Famous”, the film won the Best Documentary Short award at the 2021 Palm Springs ShortFest, making it eligible for consideration for the 2022 Oscars.