1. Lance Allred
Born with over 75% hearing loss, Lance Allred was the first legally deaf basketball player in NBA history. He competed in the 2002 World Deaf Basketball Championship in Athens, Greece, where he led Team USA to second place. He later played basketball at the college level in his home state of Utah and moved on to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008. He has since written a memoir called Longshot: The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA.
Now a well-known example of someone who overcame hearing difficulties in sports, Allred speaks to students around the country and holds basketball camps for deaf and hard of hearing teens in Taylorsville, Utah.
2. Tamika Catchings
2011 WNBA MVP and nine-time WNBA All-Star Tamika Catchings has never let her hearing difficulties stop her from achieving her dreams. As a child, she threw her hearing aids into a field after being teased at school. Her parents, understandably upset, refused to buy her another pair. She developed an extreme work ethic in order to succeed in school without them and found her specialty on the basketball court. However, while playing for the University of Tennessee, her coach encouraged her to begin wearing hearing aids again. She followed that advice, but she also believes that her hearing difficulties give her an edge on the court because they help her to be more observant of hand signals and body language. Today, she plays for the Indiana Fever in the WNBA and the U.S. Women’s Olympic team. She also started the Catch the Stars Foundation, Inc., which helps disadvantaged youth achieve their dreams.
Tamika stated in an October 2014 interview that she’ll be retiring after the 2016 Summer Olympics.
3. Michael Lizarraga
Michael Lizarraga was born completely deaf, but that didn’t stop him from making the basketball team as a walk-on at Cal State Northridge in 2007. It didn’t even stop him from working his way up to starter for both his junior and senior years. He became one of the only deaf Division 1 NCAA basketball players in history. Lizarraga’s journey at Northridge even led him to his wife, who was a deaf studies student at the time. (Northridge’s National Center on Deafness serves about 200 students who are deaf or hard of hearing among an enrollment of more than 35,000 students at the university total.)
Lizarraga is quoted to have said, “For me, my biggest dream was always to play for a Division I team. There were people who said I would never be able to do it. That made me more determined... I would say my favorite quote is, ‘Don’t tell me I can’t because I will.’”