Lance Allred: The First Deaf NBA Player

Considering what Lance Allred went through to get where he is now, the rest of his journey shouldn’t be so difficult. Allred, a 27 year old, 6-11 center, signed a contract to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA. Allred’s contract, signed on April 4, provides him for a chance to play the remainder of the NBA season and a contract to appear at training camp next season for the Cavaliers.

Allred (center, #41) waits for a pass

When I first heard of this through wire sources a few weeks ago, Allred had already signed his first 10-day contract. I was surprised there hadn’t already been a deaf (or even hard-of-hearing) NBA player, on the level of Tamika Catchings of the WNBA. Catchings is a hard of hearing female hoops star who played for the University of Tennessee and is currently playing for Indiana Fever of the WNBA.

I can shoot off on one hand, using ASL, potential NBA players who are deaf – either past their prime or capable of playing today – David Hamilton, Brian Bippus, Anthony Jones, Mike Kent and Jamel Bradley among others. The fact that there has never been a deaf player in the NBA until this year speaks volumes of how hard it is to make it to the NBA and how much of an obstacle it is to have a hearing loss.

It wasn’t much of Allred’s pedigree that was the problem. Allred was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Utah in 1998-1999, averaging 17.3 points per game, 9.8 rebounds per game en route to being recognized as one of the top 100 recruits by Blue Ribbon Magazine. Allred signed to play for the University of Utah.

A now-infamous confrontation from Utah coach Rick Majerus (in which Majerus called Allred “a disgrace to cripples” who had “weaseled [his] way through life using [his poor] hearing as an excuse,”) led Allred to make the decision to transfer to Weber State. After ranking third in the NCAA in rebounding his senior year at Weber State, Allred played one year in Europe (France) and two years in the NBA D-League (developmental league), before being called up by the Cavaliers.

Clearly talent isn’t an issue here; its obvious Allred was in the right place at the right time. With injuries to the Cavaliers’ top two big men (Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Ben Wallace), they were short on height and Allred’s 6-11 frame didn’t hurt in helping with the decision to offer two 10-day contracts with eventually a season-long contract.

While most of Allred’s professional experience comes from European leagues and the NBA, he played for the USA Deaf Basketball team for the 2002 World Deaf Basketball Classic. During the 2002 tournament, Allred scored 74% from the field (56 for 76; good for second best in the whole tournament) and ranked in the top three in blocked shots and free throws. While it appears Allred’s experiences in international play and in the NBA play will help him in the future, he looks like not such a disgrace to cripples.

Take that, Rick Majerus.

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