Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Book Review — Longshot: The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA, by Lance Allred

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2009 at 2:20 PM

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This is my review of Lance Allred's book. The article appears in this week's issue of Scene, but is here in advance for all you bloglovin' types.

Lance Allred was active for 17 games with the Cavs during the 2007-2008 season. He actually appeared in only three of those games, logging a total of 10:05 played while going 1-4 from the floor, 1-2 at the free throw line, and grabbing one rebound. So you can be forgiven for not knowing who he is. A 10-day contract-type player doesn’t merit the fans’ attention, especially when the team is pushing towards the playoffs behind LeBron James.

But there was much more to Allred coffeebreak-length pro career. Plenty of media outlets wanted to tell his story, including this very alt-weekly. Lance was not just a nameless, faceless big white guy on the end of the bench. Lance had grown up in a fundamentalist Mormon compound in Montana before becoming the first deaf player in the NBA. And he was plagued by obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Allred had baggage.

After an NPR report, Harper Collins came calling. They wanted to send a ghostwriter to help him write an autobiography. His agent, John Greig, laughed. There was no way Allred would have that. Lance, in addition to being a damn good basketball player and history buff, was a fine writer, and if anyone was going to write his book, it was going to be him. In fact, he had already started, sort of a cathartic process in the midst of one struggling season.

The result is Longshot: The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA, which is on sale now, a harrowing and moving look at Allred’s life growing up in a polygamous compound, his family’s escape to Utah, his travails of living a hearing-impaired life and his improbable if brief pro basketball career.

In 250 riveting pages, Allred honestly, breezily and often hilariously recounts his life. (The original manuscript clocked in at over 800 pages, and though much was cut for the final product, Allred promises that the excerpts will be published sometime, somewhere.)

His personal and familial history alone is worth the read.

There’s his grandfather, Rulon Allred, a prophet who was the leader of the fundamentalist sect centered in Pinesdale, Montana, where Lance grew up. There’s his father, who never took a second wife, and his mother, who uprooted the family to Utah after breaking away from the polygamous group. Throughout, Allred explains the bitterness, infighting, crime, pettiness and egos that ruled the “utopian” society and ultimately led to the family’s split. He’s still close to his mother’s side of the family, most of whom have read Lance’s intimate portrayal of their lives and given their blessing. His father’s side, however, is a different story. “I don’t give a damn what my father’s side thinks,” he says.

But basketball is at the heart of his story.

Allred played the game for solace. After becoming the 1998-1999 Utah Gatorade Player of the Year, Lance had a bevy of scholarship offers from around the country, but he chose to stay close to home and suit up for the team he had dreamed of joining, the Utah Utes. There, Rick Majerus made Allred’s life absolute hell. There’s a great anecdote in the book regarding Majerus. He had a habit of calling Lance “cunt extraordinaire,” and despite the fact that Lance had hearing aids, Majerus would sometimes spell out “cunt” with his fingers to make sure there was “no miscommunication.”

“Lance, you’ve weaseled yourself through life using your hearing as an excuse,” Majerus once told Allred, as corroborated by some of his teammates. “You’re a disgrace to cripples. If I was a cripple in a wheelchair and saw you play basketball, I’d shoot myself.”

He also insisted that Allred get tested for a learning disability, even though Lance pulled down a 3.8 GPA and received Academic All-Conference awards.

After two years, Allred left to play for Weber State. From there, his draft prospects sank, and his only option was to play professional ball in Europe, a dicey proposition given the Euro leagues’ habit of not paying players on time, if at all. In Turkey, Lance was promised a $20,000 signing bonus. By the time Lance was set to leave the team, not only had he not received a paycheck, he had never received the bonus. Which leads to the most entertaining story in the whole tome, involving shady characters chasing the 6-foot-11 blond American through the streets of Istanbul.

There’s more, of course, as Allred returns to America and the prospects of playing in the NBA’s Developmental League for $15,000 a year (he says his frugal upbringing — his family once survived on $5 worth of groceries for one week — prepared him for this) and riding endless buses between tiny towns. During his tryouts for the Idaho Stampede, he played in shoes so long past their expiration date they made his feet bleed.

Of course, it ends happily, with Allred’s call-up to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the realization of his dream to play in the NBA.

He played again for the Stampede after not catching on with the Cavs. “I wasn’t playing as sharp at first,” says Allred. “Depression set in, and I wondered if two months at the top was all that I was going to get, or was it all legitimate. I worried, but I learned that only I can validate myself. And once I knew there was going to be no call-up this season, I just played for fun, in a good way. I decided I was just going to shoot, and I ended up playing the best basketball of my life.”

Looking toward next season, Allred isn’t sure where he will play. “I’m officially retired from the D-League,” he says. “It’s time to move on. I have no regrets. I’ve walked that road to the bitter end. It’s a vicious league. It’s draining and taxing under shoddy circumstances.”

So it’s either Europe or the NBA, and the recession climate could mean another chance at his dream. There are teams in dismal financial shape, and owners and GMs might need to fill the last few roster spots with bargain-basement, minimum-contract players. Allred might be an intriguing option.

If not, he’s got plenty on his plate. He’s working on his second book, a look into 14th-century Europe (the autobiography is littered with European history analogies and descriptions). He wants to eventually get his Ph.D in history, would like to attend architecture school, is working on a documentary about his parents’ lives at the compound and is blogging on his new site, lanceallred41.com.

“I want to be respected, but not just as a basketball player,” he says.

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