Lance Allred: The First Legally Deaf Player in the NBA

The game of basketball was invented in 1891 and became an official Olympic event in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Germany. However, professional basketball as we know it today, the NBA, didn’t come into existence until ten years later on June 6, 1946. Despite the long evolution of basketball occurring over an entire century, there had never been a legally deaf professional player. This would eventually change, but not until the NBA had already existed for more than 60 years.

Lance Allred is about as far from the conventional professional basketball player as you can get. Unlike many players who originate from urban environments and the gritty asphalt courts of the concrete jungle, Allred hails from the mountainous state of Utah. Allred goes even further to defy the stereotype of a jock as he is also a chess enthusiast and the author of “Longshot: The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA.” Even more unlikely, he had two mothers when he was born into a Mormon polygamous compound in Montana.

As unique as his youth was, it was not without adversity. Allred was born deaf and when he was five years old, he says that “[he] was told by a teacher that God had made [him] deaf as punishment because [he had not been] faithful in pre-existence”1. Allred and his family moved to Utah where he had a successful basketball career as a high school player in which he was named Gatorade Utah Player of the Year. He also got the opportunity to play for Team USA in the 2002 Deaf Basketball Championships in Greece.

Allred enrolled in college at the University of Utah, where he played for the Utes, but it was there he was faced with even more adversity. During the 2001-02 season, Ute head coach Rick Majerus, “reportedly called Lance Allred, [the] backup center who was 75% deaf, ‘a disgrace to cripples’ who had ‘weaseled [his] way through life using [his poor] hearing as an excuse’”2. The abuse drove Allred to transfer to Weber State where he blossomed as a player and earned a professional contract overseas with a French team in 2005. Over the next few years, Allred developed his skills and finally made it back to the United States.

Allred became the first legally deaf player to play in the NBA when he made his pro debut on March 17, 2008 with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although 2008 was his only year in the NBA, his impact is more than just being a basketball player. He is an inspiration to young deaf players with NBA or WNBA dreams. Allred is proof that it is possible to make it to the peak of basketball prowess, and really, he is an inspiration to anyone who has ever been bullied.

Lance Allred’s Book

1Responts, Mike. “LANCE ALLRED HAS TWO MOMMIES…AND HE’S DEAF.” Web log post. Mike Responts: The Blog., 17 Mar. 2008. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.
2Price, S.L. “He’s Funny, Charming and Loved by Many of His Former Players, but Something about the Game He Adores Brings out the Worst in the New Saint Louis Coach.” Sports Illustrated, 18 Jan. 2008. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.

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