Basketball's Minor Leaguers Scraping By

NBA players are the highest-paid athletes in professional sports. But for guys like Lance Allred, who's stuck in the NBA's development league, a season can net as little as $12,000.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

A pretty amazing story now about a guy's dream of reaching the NBA. His name is Lance Allred and he spent last year in the NBA's development league with the Idaho's Stampede, my home state. Competition is fierce in the D-leagues. Players are always trying to impress NBA scouts, and last month, 27-year-old Allred got his call up to the NBA. His reaction was tears of joy. Here's NPR's Tom Goldman with the story.

TOM GOLDMAN: Lance Allred got the call from his D-League coach on March 12th 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 hoops 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. LANCE ALLRED (Center, Cleveland Cavaliers ): I mean, when you grow up on a compound, like a polygamist compound, and you're driven with guilt, and you're constantly in 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 12th 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. Feel to say, you know what, I finally did it.

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 six-foot-eleven-inches, who can work hard and 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. And of course, the trick is to not psych yourself out.

GOLDMAN: Which is what Allred's trying not to do, as Friday approaches. That's when his second ten-day, 25,000-dollar 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.

MARTIN: That was a story by NPR's sports reporter Tom Goldman.

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