Friday, June 19, 2009

Basketball meets Big Love

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - When basketball meets "Big Love," you get Lance Allred.

The 6-foot-11 Allred isn't exactly a household name but he should be. He's only had a cup of coffee in the NBA, but Allred might be the best writing big man of all-time.

His book, "Longshot: The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA." tells the tale of a 28-year-old basketball player and his journey to the Association.

They say to be a great writer, you need great material. In Allred's case, he's got plenty of compelling stuff. He's deaf. He grew up on a polygamous Mormon commune. He's asthmatic. He has obsessive compulsive disorder and he was viciously berated by his first college coach, Utah's Rick Majerus.

Despite those roadblocks. Allred achieved his dream on March 13, 2008 when the Cleveland Cavaliers signed him to a ten-day contract, making him the first legally deaf player in NBA history.

Lance Allred achieved his dream on March 13, 2008 when the Cleveland Cavaliers signed him to a ten-day contract.
That "dream" is now safely in the rearview mirror as Allred continues to set higher goals for himself.

"Getting to the NBA was important just to say I did it," Allred, who is impaired with a with a 75 to 80 percent hearing loss, said in a phone interview. "You set a goal and then you move on to another. That's how life opens up for me in different directions."

Allred still has NBA aspirations (he will be working out for Orlando this summer), but they are now tempered.

"We all learn from our limitations and the only limit we have is the one we place upon ourselves," Allred said. "Any achievement for me is quickly lost and swallowed up by new goals. I'm never content. I'm very insatiable.

"It's all about being in the right place at the right time. And that's not just sports, that's life. If things don't work out in the NBA, I have two deals in Italy on the table. Playing for good money there and getting a lot of playing time wouldn't be the worst thing in the world."

In truth, basketball has always been just a bit player in Allred's life story.

He talks with ease about growing up in the polygamous, Fundamentalist LDS Rulon Allred clan in Montana, before moving away at the age of 13 with his dad. "Any environment people grow up in is normal when you are there," he says.

Armed with knowledge few are privy too, Allred called HBO's hit series on polygamy,"Big Love", "crap" and sensationalistic. He talked at length about the history of polygamist cults and why some aspects work and others don't, believing it succeeded in 19th century America, but is now outdated.

"My dad always says there are plenty of good people (living the lifestyle) but no good polygamists," Allred said.

There was also the time his professor gave him an incomplete on a Middle East history paper. The paper was so well-written that the professor assumed Allred had plagiarized. After all, a jock could never put together that type of work.

After being given some of Allred's other writing, the professor realized his mistake and was forced to give Allred the grade he deserved.

"I enjoy the stereotypes. It's fun to see people squirm when they realize they are wrong."

His pangs of self doubt and the incredibly insensitive control games played by Majerus are also can't miss subjects in the book, but Allred didn't put pen to paper to prove anything or expose the ugly underbelly of college basketball.

"I was overseas in France when I started writing the book," Allred said. "I did it to make sense of things. It was therapeutic for me. I think everyone should write about their life, not with the pressure of getting it published.. just to take inventory."

Allred grew up as a awkward kid with large hearing aids on his ears, making him an easy target for his schoolmates.

"Emotional self doubt is my weakness," Allred said. "I've always been far too analytical and I have had to learn to be at ease with myself."

That certainly wasn't helped by Majerus at Utah.

"You've weaseled yourself through life using your hearing as an excuse. You're a disgrace to cripples. If I was a cripple in a wheelchair and saw [the way] you play basketball, I'd shoot myself," Majerus allegedly said to Allred.

Two other Utah players confirmed some of what Allred claimed, but Majerus denied the allegations while describing the statements as "extremely insensitive."

The coach was later cleared of allegations of discrimination, though the investigation did not determine whether Majerus had actually made the offensive remarks and the coach quickly fled Utah.

Allred seems to have moved on.

"Don't get me wrong. He loves us (his players)," Allred said of Majerus. "We were his family and he was tough on everybody. He's very smart...very good at manipulating and he wanted to get that control over his players. "You did everything in your power to get his appraisal. Now I understand you can't look for people to validate you."

Allred also admits he was different.

"I naturally make people uncomfortable," Allred said. "I don't mean too, but I am not the typical jock. I'm not just talking about video games, drinking and girls."

While Allred shares the blame for his failure at Utah, he won't share his success as a player or a person.

"I'm such a perfectionist," Allred said. " I always have the internal debate about my self-worth, the difference between empowerment and entitlement. You have to be careful not to think you are entitled to things. I've worked hard and can't give Majerus any credit for my success. I have succeeded on my own."

Allred is writing again, with two books in the pipeline -- a historical novel about Teutonic Knights and a Victorian satire.

Heady stuff.

When asked which is more important now, basketball or his fledgling writing career, Allred was quick to answer.

"It's writing now. Writing is a lifetime label. Basketball is temporary, transitory."
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