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NBA’s first deaf player Lance Allred on playing with LeBron James, overcoming bullying

Lance Allred

Here’s how he overcame the challenges of competing in the pros with a handicap.

Did you know that a legally deaf player once played in the NBA? His name is Lance Allred. Here’s how he overcame the challenges of competing in the pros with a handicap. 

First legally deaf player in NBA

Not many aspiring players make it in the NBA, and the journey becomes harder for those with disabilities. For Lance Allred, being born with severe hearing impairment makes everything more challenging, including his dreams of playing professional basketball.

He grew up in a conservative community with little to no available resources for hearing-challenged persons to learn sign language. This means he had to cope with the bullying and the awkwardness of living with large hearing aids. It came to a point where Allred almost decided to take his own life. Fortunately, he discovered basketball at age 13, and it gave him purpose to persevere. A growth spurt that saw Allred going from 5’10” to 6’11” helped.

Lance played for the University of Utah but transferred to Weber State University. The reason for the transfer was the constant bullying from coach Rick Majerus. At one point, it became too harsh to let it slide. 

“Lance, you’re the worst of all. You use hearing as an excuse to weasel yourself through life, and you’re a disgrace to cripples. And if I was in a wheelchair and saw you play basketball, I’d shoot myself.”

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Majerus was forced to resign due to the insults. For Lance, the move was a blessing in disguise. The center averaged 17.7 points and 12 rebounds in his senior year for Weber University. However, he wasn’t drafted in the NBA despite the stellar numbers. Allred would play overseas in Turkey, France, and Spain before earning a call-up to the NBA D-League, which paved the route to the NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers offered him two 10-day contracts before inking a deal in 2008. 

At that time, Cleveland was led by 23-year-old LeBron James. Lance shared some interesting stories playing alongside The King. 

“LeBron has many good qualities as well as qualities that could use some work. But as a teammate, there were many times when I first arrived at Cleveland that LeBron went out of his way with small, simple gestures to help me feel welcome, when he did not need to.”

Life after NBA

Allred only played three games in his NBA career. He averaged a point. It may be short-lived, but not everyone can make NBA dreams come true, especially someone who is deaf. What he achieved, overcoming bullying, facing challenges by playing overseas, and not giving up that led to NBA call-up deserved more recognition. 

Lance was able to quickly move on after his NBA stint. He was a diligent student and used his great writing skills to publish two books entitled "Longshot: The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA" and "Basketball Gods." Allred also spoke at a TEDx talk event where he shared his upbringing and childhood memories. 

There are two things Lance Allred did that some young players can emulate. One, perseverance despite all the challenges he had to face. Two, accepting that the NBA is not everything. He failed to get drafted but explored options overseas, and when his dream to play became a reality, it was cut short. While other players resort to alcohol and drug addiction to cope with depression, Allred did not let it bother him and moved on in life. 

Lance Allred may be deaf, but he lived a life that many healthy people could only dream of. May his story continue to inspire people on and off the court. 

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