Getting in the Game: First Deaf Player in NBA History
Advocacy Lance Allred overcame the odds when he was the first legally deaf player to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Today he continues to overcome language barriers, traveling around the world and playing the game he loves.
Mediaplanet: You are a huge inspiration to young deaf athletes. What is your advice on prevailing over any type of hearing impairment when it comes to following your dreams and reaching your goals?
Lance Allred: People have been telling me what I can and can’t do all my life. I simply choose not to listen — I can’t hear them anyways. Life is going to hurt. It just will, and you will need to develop thick skin because the challenges will keep coming. But the greatest limitations we must overcome are the ones we place on ourselves.
MP: What were the challenges you faced being a basketball player in the NBA with a hearing impairment?
LA: The most obvious challenge I faced was the fear of not being able to hear a play being called. But the good coaches used hand signals. They have to anyway, because the arenas are so loud that no one can hear anything. In the land of temporary deafness, the permanently deaf man is king. I had to learn to be more of a visual player and rely on IQ and memory, treating it like a game of chess.
"Kids are brutal. Needless to say, it took me a bit longer to develop my self-confidence, but like the tortoise, I have far out gained the hare."
MP: Only a small percentage of the people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually use one. Why do you think so many people with hearing loss live without one?
LA: My career path has forced me to continually push my boundaries, and my parents prepared me for that by having me in speech therapy twice a week until I was 15-years-old. Most people don’t like the feeling of being “different” from the norm and will take the path of least resistance. Therefore, people who could wear hearing aids don’t because they don’t want the discomfort. Many don’t want to learn to speak and function in the mainstream or endure the ridicule or awkwardness from strangers who may not be very polite, patient or compassionate.
MP: How does your hearing impairment allow for you develop your other sensory skills?
LA: My eyesight is exceptional and my sense of smell and touch is always on high alert. I am an insomniac, because when the night comes, I lose my sense of sight in the dark. I feel all sorts of vibrations and tremors—the muffler of passing cars emitting shock waves, footsteps from the other side of the house, a door shutting. The human body is an amazing mechanism, how it adapts and adjusts to the world around it.
MP: Were you ever scrutinized growing up because of your hearing impairment?
LA: In the first grade I was the biggest kid in the entire elementary school and wore giant hearing aids. Of course I was a huge target. Kids are brutal. Needless to say, it took me a bit longer to develop my self-confidence, but like the tortoise, I have far out gained the hare.