A Hoop Dream Comes True

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Lance Allred is a basketball vagabond who most recently played for the Idaho Stampede in the NBA's development league. His hard work on and off the court — he lives with a severe hearing deficiency and battles obsessive-compulsive disorder — finally paid off when the Cleveland Cavaliers called.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Last year on this program, we met a basketball vagabond named Lance Allred. He had traveled the world pursuing his dream of reaching the NBA. When we first met Allred back in early 2007, he was playing with the Idaho Stampede in the NBA's Development League. The competition is fierce in the D-League; players are trying to impress NBA scouts. Allred told NPR's Tom Goldman that he kept playing during Stampede tryouts even though ill-fitting shoes made his feet bloody.

Mr. LANCE ALLRED (Idaho Stampede Player, NBA Development League): And I would go cry in the showers so no one could see me crying, but it's what we do.

NORRIS: Well, last month, 27-year-old Lance Allred cried tears of joy. He finally fulfilled that dream. He got his call up to the NBA.

Tom Goldman has this update.

TOM GOLDMAN: Lance Allred got the call from his D-League coach on March 12 after practice. Pack your bags, you're going to Cleveland. In an instant, Allred was a member of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, last year's NBA finalist, and a teammate of hoop's supernova, LeBron James.

To understand Allred's reaction to the call, it helps to go back in time - not the last three years he spent plugging away on basketball courts from Turkey to Idaho, but the first dozen years of his life. Born nearly deaf, Allred grew up living among polygamists in Utah. They were experiences, he says, that left him battling obsessive-compulsive disorder as an adult.

Mr. ALLRED: I mean, when you grew up on a compound, like a polygamous compound, and you're driven with guilt and you're in constant conflict and you're a perfectionist and you realize you're hearing impaired and you're not normal, just a lot of stuff gets going on inside your head that creates conflict.

GOLDMAN: In the last few months, Allred couldn't keep his active and anxious mind from thinking, maybe it's not meant to be. I've been playing great basketball in the D-League and still no word from the NBA. But then, his cell phone rang March 12, and all that stuff in his head just stopped.

Mr. ALLRED: Just in that one moment I had no worry in the world. It was just complete load off the shoulders and to feel - to say, you know, I finally did it.

(Soundbite of people playing basketball)

GOLDMAN: Yesterday morning, Lance Allred was the only member of the Cavaliers working out at the team's practice facility outside of Cleveland. He says he will do anything to help his new team, even cartwheels if that's what the coaches want - it's not. They seem to mainly want a big guy - Allred's 6-11 -who can work hard in practice.

His 75-percent hearing impairment isn't a hindrance. He reads lips and watches hand signals and body language on the court. Still, Allred's dream is unfolding slowly. He's only played a few seconds at the end of a couple of games, forgettable seconds for those in the stands, but not for Allred.

Mr. ALLRED: The scariest part is right before you get on, but once you finally step out there, you're like, you know what, we're just playing basketball in a court. So the trick is to not psyche your self out.

GOLDMAN: Which is what Alredd's trying not to do as Friday approaches. That's when his second 10-day, $25,000 contract with the Cavs expires. If they still want him, they have to sign him for the rest of the season. If they don't, Allred says he won't be disappointed for his future. Now that he finally has NBA experience, it's more likely another team will give him a try. Or, he can get more money if he chooses to play in Europe. Allred says the hardest part for aspiring players is getting in. And after 27 sometimes-turbulent years, Lance Allred is in.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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