The Queen Of Basketball

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Queen Of Basketball
"You don’t need to know anything about basketball to note the contrast between their desperate leaps and the ease with which she slips the ball into the net"

Luisa Harris, better known as Lucy, was six foot three when she was in her teens. “Long and tall and that’s all,” bullies called her at school, but she realised that she amounted to a lot more than that when she first tried playing basketball. She would go on to become a legendary star, representing her school, the state of Mississippi and eventually her country before being offered the remarkable opportunity to play alongside men in the NBA. It still took her a while to figure out that she was anyone special, and today she muses on what it might have been like if the world had known her name. Thanks to Ben Proudfoot’s Oscar-qualifying short documentary, she might be about to find out.

Proudfoot has previously been Oscar-nominated for A Concerto Is A Conversation, which also reflected on a life limited by discrimination, though in this case gender as well as race was a factor. When Harris was at her peak there was no WNBA and, despite the NBA’s offer, nowhere, realistically, for a female athlete of her calibre to go. Her reflections, in front of Proudfoot’s camera, are full of poignancy and regret, yet she has, as she puts it, led a happy life, and indeed one can see that shining out of her. There is vulnerability but there is also strength, and she is buoyed up by the realisation, after many years, that she was one of the people responsible for the changes that would be made in the sport – that she was a hero to numerous young women who might never have dared to pursue their sporting ambitions otherwise. That Shaquille O’Neal has come on board as an executive producer, to champion the film, is a testament to the impression she made on basketball.

Proudfoot uses a simple talking head format, keeping Lucy in close-up. Although she’s a wheelchair user now, the ghost of her former muscularity can be seen in her face, which is lively and expressive and just as fascinating to watch, in its way, as her body was at the height of its powers. In archive footage we see her score again and again, sometimes winning more points by herself than the whole of the opposing team. Though she remembers feeling isolated as the only black woman in her squad, out there on the court, it’s clear that her fellow players were in awe of her. You don’t need to know anything about basketball to note the contrast between their desperate leaps and the ease with which she slips the ball into the net, nor to appreciate the fluidity of her movement – there’s clear talent there, not just height. In pictures from the time she has a smile which suggests a sense of wonder at being there.

It’s hard to watch this film and not feel angry at the opportunities stolen from that gifted young woman, yet overall, it’s a joyful story, and a great viewing choice for kids with a passion for sport – like the one we see shooting hoops in Lucy’s driveway at the end. Progress has been made and this film reminds us why that matters.

Reviewed on: 19 Nov 2021
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The story of Mississippi basketball legend Lusia 'Lucy' Harris.

Director: Ben Proudfoot

Starring: Lusia Harris

Year: 2021

Runtime: 12 minutes

Country: US

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