Author’s Note: Ha! Now add Oscar winner to the resume…hers, the director’s, Steph Curry’s, everybody involved! I say let’s have more Oscar-winning documentaries about women–woohoo!
Lucy Harris died about a month ago, but the “Queen of Basketball” seemed the perfect subject to cap off Black History Month, with a tribute to her remarkable career. She won three national championships before NCAA women’s basketball became the commercial juggernaut it is today; she excelled in the Olympics in the days before Team USA dominated women’s Olympic basketball as it does today; she competed when she was the only Black face on the team, on the court, or practically in the building.
Whenever someone is the first, it always means more than a note in a record. There are stories under the stories.
Tall Family, Tall Dreams
Harris is the subject of a delightful but unfortunately short biopic making the rounds on ESPN, produced by Shaquille O’Neal. Ben Proudfoot’s film is narrated by Ms. Harris, who talks about her basketball days with a smile.
Harris was the 10th of 11 children, born to sharecroppers in the deep South of the Mississippi delta. Her idols as a teenager were the basketball heroes of the late 1960s: Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and especially Oscar Robertson, her favorite. She spoke of sneaking TV after light’s out–I had one of those 9-inch sets myself–so the family was not dirt poor, even with so many mouths to feed. By the time Lucy was old enough to watch basketball under the blankets, her siblings may have been working as well as babysitting her.
All her elder brothers and one sister played basketball at Amanda Elzy High School, where they all went to school. They were coached by Conway Stewart, whose team went to multiple state championships, winning one with Harris’ older brother. The year that Harris came along, the team won every game until its last, missing the opportunity to go to state her first year. They fixed that the next year. She broke the school record, scoring 46 points in one game, and captaining the team back to the state championships.
If you have not seen the curling at the Beijing 2022 Olympics because you still believe it’s like watching ice melt or golf, then you are missing out.
Try this. Take a ball–soccer ball, baseball, croquet ball, pickleball, doesn’t matter. Go out to the street and place a piece of paper down on one end. Walk to the other end, about half a football-field’s length away. Now roll the ball so it hits the piece of paper (that’s called the button). If you want, you can run in front of the ball while it’s moving and sweep rocks out of the way, just to get the feel of it.
If you think that seems unfair, because the ball will roll too fast, then roll it slower. If you think it seems impossible because how will you aim? That’s curling.
Beijing’s curling matches have been nail-biters, sudden death overtime spectacles, full-out rammies, if my translator is reading Scottish slang correctly. Here are three worth reviewing, even if you’ve already seen them and definitely if you have not.
Every Olympic athlete suffers. Every Olympian, every medalist, every winner has their own long story of hardship and sacrifice. Yet, there are a handful of stories every quadrennial cycle that stand out as just a little more meaningful.
Some might characterize these as stories of redemption, a perennial issue at the Games, as I’ve noted before. Some athletes simply take a little longer to get to the top of the podium. Some are haunted, but not as much by visions of lost medals as by the media. Even a previous gold isn’t always enough to keep the demons away. It’s why the Olympics is particularly hard on also-rans. The four year interval is a killer because it takes so long to wait to try again.
The oldest this. The longest that. The most years between the first Olympics and a win. These are the epithets that get tagged on to Olympians of an entire class. Winter athletes work in harsh and dangerous conditions, conditions for the young. Yet, there are 30-year-olds in the mix, because it takes experience to slice off that extra edge next to a slalom gate or to squeeze a few inches in front of the snowboard cross racer behind you.
While U.S. media were obsessing over why two-time gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin had skied off course, Switzerland’s Lara Gut-Behrami was wondering whether her 30-year-old legs would be enough. She’d won Super-G titles, going all the way back to 2014, but she had only managed fourth in Sochi. There was a bronze, but it was in the downhill, and she had only managed bronze again earlier in the week in the Giant Slalom. Bronze was better than fourth, but…