NBA’s First Deaf Player
Lance Allred grew up in circumstances unlikely to create a pro basketball player.
Born in a polygamist commune in rural Montana, Allred lost 80 percent of his hearing at birth — a condition some of the commune’s leaders attributed to God punishing him for being “unfaithful” before he was born.
Despite dealing with hearing loss, bullying and naysayers, Allred defied the odds and became the first deaf player in the NBA, playing on basketball’s largest stage alongside superstars like LeBron James.
Allred is now a best-selling author, motivational speaker and philanthropist, inspiring business leaders, athletes and children.
“People all of my life have been telling me what I can and can’t do, but I simply choose not to listen,” Allred says. “I can’t hear them very well anyway.”
Photo courtesy of Lance Allred
An Unlikely Star
As a child, Allred was an easy target for bullying. He describes himself as one of the biggest kids in school, clumsy and uncoordinated; a kid who wore big hearing aids and talked funny. His struggles intensified when his family left polygamy, and Allred lost his social network. This led to severe self-esteem issues and suicidal thoughts.
At age 13, his life took a turn for the better when he discovered basketball. Despite significant obstacles, he drove himself to succeed at the game. He had height on his side — he eventually grew to 6 feet 11 inches — but his hearing loss caused challenges with balance and communication.
“I couldn’t play basketball with my hearing aids in due to sweat and concussion issues,” Allred says. “My very first game, I was teed up (given a technical foul) and ejected because the ref thought I was being a jerk and intentionally ignoring him. So yes, there were a lot of doubters.”
Nevertheless, Allred went on to play at the University of Utah and Weber State where he ranked third in the nation for rebounding. After college, he played in Europe and with the Idaho Stampede in the NBA-D League.
After an impressive run with the Stampede, he signed a contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, becoming the first deaf player in NBA history and making three appearances late in the 2008 season.
In describing how he overcame his challenges, Allred says he chose to succeed.
“Every morning I would tell myself, ‘I choose to,’” he says. “I always knew if I functioned from a place of integrity, always true to myself, I could never fail.”
Allred retired from basketball in 2015. He wrote two books, including “Longshot,” detailing his escape from polygamy and journey to the NBA, and its sequel “Basketball Gods.” He now lives in Murray and is the single father of 3-year-old son Simon.
Currently, he is starting a nonprofit, The Courage and Grit Foundation. This organization provides sporting camps featuring world-class professionals to at-risk youth. These participants in turn coach special-needs children.
Allred also found a passion for motivational speaking. He teaches people to pick themselves up after setbacks and to push beyond their comfort zones. He encourages audiences of all demographics — including corporate, nonprofit, youth and school groups — to work hard, persevere and choose to succeed.
“I choose to push myself out of my comfort zones every day,” Allred says. “And through the bullying, politics, setbacks and adversity, I have only become stronger. Choice is a powerful gift many of us do not feel we have, but we do.”