By Meredith Schneider
There are so many people in this world doing such incredible things that it becomes difficult to acknowledge every single one of them. In honor of Sense Week, we racked our brains for some people accomplishing very astonishing things—with impairments to one of their five main senses. There is Keith Salmon, a man from the UK who is legally blind and paints these fine masterpieces of landscape art. We even found some amazing videos of blind skateboarder Tommy Carroll doing his thing. But, if we had to highlight just one professional who has overcome a tough bout of obstacles in his life and exceeded all expectations, it would have to be Mr. Lance Allred.
Photo courtesy of Lance Allred
An author, a family man, and the first deaf NBA player in history are three of his major accomplishments in his 31 years of life, although he is currently working on taking over the world. Of course, the first question on many minds is how he was able to play in the NBA with a hearing impairment. For him, that story begins at birth. “I was born with my hearing impairment, due to an RH factor/incompatibility with my mother,” he told us. “My parents had me in speech therapy twice a week until I was 15 years old. I only hear the vowels in the speech; I don’t hear the consonants.” His parents encouraged him to read and write, and he began winning writing awards in grade school. His family was part of a Mormon polygamist sect in Montana, and his peers did not speak kindly of his impairment.
According to DeafUnderstanding.com, only 2-3 out of every 1,000 children are born with hearing impairments, and he was told as a young boy that it was his fault. “As a 5-year-old, it was impressed upon me by my Sunday School teacher that God had made me deaf as a form of punishment for being unfaithful in the pre-existence, in which God and Lucifer warred and I chose to not choose a side, but rather than sending me to Earth as a black man for being unfaithful, he mercifully sent me down only with hearing impairment.”
One might assume that Lance buried himself in basketball and workouts to escape the constant judgments, but the talent that was eventually harnessed into a lucrative career didn’t show signs until his family left Montana and separated themselves from the religious sect. “To make new friends, I decided to try out for the basketball team since I was so tall. I wasn’t any good at first. I was so shy about my speech and communicating with people, that I really enjoyed the idea of being able to play basketball and find common friends, without the challenge of having to communicate with them. Little did I know that basketball would force me to be more communicative than I ever imagined myself to be.”
One might be inclined to think it impossible to communicate on a basketball court without full hearing capacity; coaches yell, players yell, buzzers go off, and refs blow their whistles to signal fouls, plays, and—sometimes incorrect—calls. But Allred was rendered soundless on the court, and he had to work through that in his own way. “Due to the sound speakers and noise in most official games, my hearing aids shut down, so I have to remove them, leaving me basically all-deaf. But in the fourth quarter of a loud gym, everyone is deaf. And in the land of temporary deafness, the permanently deaf man is king. Basketball is universal in its terminology. If you read body language, which is 80 percent of any language, then you can tell what it is people are trying to talk to you about.”
Lance Allred was named Utah’s 1999 Gatorade Player of the Year, earned a spot as a CNN/Sports Illustrated Top 100 Recruit, was ranked the center position’s “Best in the West” by Pac-West Hoops, and earned First Team All-State. After tremendous success in high school, universities were practically knocking down Allred’s door to get a chance to have him on their team. He lived down the street from the University of Utah at the time, so he chose to play for them.
While at Utah, he says he was exposed to harassment from the coaching staff due to his impairment. The added pressure of playing for a top 5 program combined with his OCD didn’t help matters. “I put so much emphasis on my identity as a basketball player, that it became a pretty traumatic experience. [Coach Majerus] was going to give me this amazing life, all I had to do was follow his direction and never question his authority. I take most of the blame for my shortcomings at Utah, for it was me who put too much emphasis on the coach, instead of myself.” Although he is now at peace with what transpired—both on and off the court—in those first two years, at the time he chose to transfer and redshirt at Weber State University.
“The transition during my redshirt year was tough,” he admits. “I was unable to play for that season, so I couldn’t be ‘The Basketball Player.’” After struggling with his emotions and overwhelming OCD off the court, he sought professional help. When he finally got back on the court, it was time for him to shine. Even after having a great statistical season his junior year, he outdid himself as a senior, ranking third in the nation in rebounds. His talents helped Weber State get to the Big Sky Conference Tournament national championship game, and his labors landed him First Team All-Big Sky and First Team All-Utah. He even had the privilege of competing for Team USA in the 2002 World Deaf Basketball Championship in Athens. “I loved my time with my teammates of Deaf USA. During my time there, I actually got pretty decent at signing, and by the end was able to understand most conversation, as sign as well as any language is 80% body language.” Unfortunately, that trip was full of heartache for him as well. “I sprained my MCL, slipping in a wet spot during the semi-final game. I had to sit and watch my teammates lose the gold medal game. It was hard.”
After graduation in 2005, Allred played for SPO Rouen Basket, JL Bourg Basket, Sedesa Lliria, and Idaho Stampede. He won NBA D-League awards like it was nobody’s business, and on March 13, 2008 he became the first legally deaf player in NBA history by signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers. After his stint in Cleveland ended in 2009, Allred played for countless teams, including the Indiana Pacers, Scavolini Spar Pesaro, Maroussi B.C., the Utah Flash, Trotamundos de Carabobo, the Otago Nuggets, and Kyoto Hannaryz.
With two books under his belt (Longshot: The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA and Basketball Gods: The Transformation of the Enlightened Jock), Allred currently has two others in the works. He plays for Fuerza Regia in Mexico and is enjoying his first year of married life with his wife, Chelsea, who inspired him to take up guitar. After just two months of playing, he is about to release his single, The Black Sea, on iTunes. An album is to follow shortly.