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"Basketball and the Deaf"


Basketball And The Deaf

Hunter Clark 

           Basketball is loved all over the world by millions of people from all different backgrounds. All basketball players face some type of challenge; not tall enough, not strong enough, not fast enough, not skilled enough.  Players in the Deaf community face these exact same challenges. In addition they also face the challenge of living in a hearing world, which is something they have had to overcome their whole life. In basketball, the Deaf or Hard of Hearing need to be able to communicate on the court during a fast-paced, chaotic game without being able to hear. Even though some game communication is not verbal, a lot is verbal especially in the traditional hearing setting. So how do Deaf teammates, coaches and officials communicate during the frenzy of a running game?  Many including the Deaf community love this quick action-packed game of basketball. The love of the game is as long as the game has been around but the history of Deaf Basketball is short in regard to specific Deaf Leagues. Collegiate athletic scholarships have had a short history as well.  For anyone to earn an athletic scholarship in today's competitive world of sports is a rare accomplishment. So what are the odds for Deaf basketball players to earn an athletic scholarship in comparison to a hearing person? Deaf basketball is just the same as hearing basketball the difference lies in the communication. (Page, 2014).

           Teamwork is what makes a basketball team great. In order to have teamwork you must have good communication. So how do Deaf players, coaches, and referees communicate? For Deaf players it is similar to how hearing players communicate. Each team has their own defense and sets on offense and different words or signs that represent their defense and offensive sets to inform them which ones to run. (Wilken, 2012). Deaf players must rely mostly on body language and signing in order to keep the game going. (USA Deaf Sports Federation, 1996-2015). The player with the ball (typically the point guard) must be a leader and make sure everyone knows what plays, offense or defense to execute.  For all basketball players and teammates the more they play together the more they learn, become familiar with and expect certain styles, habits or type of "game" (the way the player plays, fancy, old-school, out of control, etc.). Teammates who work together and communicate well pick up on their teammates style fairly quickly. For the Deaf basketball player, their senses in picking up on these body language habits are usually keen. It is essential to know their teammates' styles so they know what to expect when the quickness of verbal communication is not an option. (USA Deaf Sports Federation, 1996-2015). Understanding your teammate's strengths and weaknesses is vital for both the hearing and the Deaf basketball player. As long as they play together as a team and pay attention and apply what the coach instructs the Deaf basketball team can compete with just as much intensity if not, better than a hearing team.

To increase a team's intensity and competitiveness, the coach has to have trust and confidence in his players. Coaches for Deaf basketball players typically communicate through sign language and one-word signs representing certain plays, offense sets or defense. (United States of America Deaf Basketball, 2015). Many times the coach will also have a translator to help break the language barrier for basketball coaches who are not fluent in sign language. (United States of America Deaf Basketball, 2015). If a coach feels that having a translator will take away from his teaching and/or coaching ability then it is common for the coach to take courses in sign language. (Deaf Basketball Australia, n.d.) An inspiring story is that of Coach Kevin Cook. Coach Cook suffers from Parkinson's disease and coaches a girls Deaf basketball team. (CBS News, 2011).  Coach Cook says these girls are mentally tough. (CBS News, 2011). His team fights through diversity and always tries to find a way to win. (CBS News, 2011). Having Parkinson's disease often causes Coach Cook to uncontrollably shake which sometimes makes signing plays to his team impossible. (CBS News, 2011). He shared that his shaking can cost his team 6-10 points a game. (CBS News, 2011). With the help of his assistant coaches who have a high basketball IQ, he can still get his players to understand what defense their in or what offense their running. (CBS News, 2011). In 2011, Coach Cook's team went undefeated with a record of 16-0 and won a State Title Championship. (CBS News, 2011). Coach Cook is a great example of how a Deaf basketball team can overcome all odds and how even a Coach who cannot always sign to his deaf team can find ways to communicate.

Officiating a game with Deaf players requires specific communication skills as well. For most officials the motto is they "see it and call it" and blow the whistle. (Deaf Basketball Officials, 2015).    However, most players who are hard of hearing or Deaf will obviously not be able to hear the whistle blowing and will continue playing the game. Many fouls and travels are important to the flow and outcome of a game so when these types of infractions occur the official at a Deaf basketball must get the attention of the players by using body language and symbols to represent that a foul or infraction occurred during a play. (Deaf Basketball Officials, 2015).  An interesting fact is that in the world of hearing basketball there are also Deaf officials. Chris Miller is a Deaf Division One Basketball Official in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). (Deaf Basketball Officials, 2015).  Miller calls highly competitive games without the ability to hear. (Deaf Basketball Officials, 2015).  He has successfully proven that a Deaf official can call a game just as good as a hearing official. (Deaf Basketball Officials, 2015).  You might even speculate that a Deaf official calls a better game than a hearing official as they will never be distracted by the heckles and hollers of a relentless rowdy crowd who does not like a call or an angry coach or hostile player who wants to argue. However, most officials who are Deaf work in the Deaf Basketball Leagues.

Basketball for the Deaf has basketball leagues just like basketball for the hearing has different leagues. To play in a Deaf Basketball League the player must have a minimum 55% hearing loss. (Wilken, 2012). Players are not allowed to wear hearing aids, if any enhanced hearing technology or aids are found on a player while they are playing, they will be ejected. (Wilken, 2012). Art Kruger is the man behind the mind that organized Deaf Sports. (Panara and Panara, n.d.). The Deaf League was established in 1948 and slowly grew. (Panara and Panara, n.d.). By the year 2000, it had became more organized and better known. (Panara and Panara, n.d.). Kruger is known as "The Father of AAAD." (Panara and Panara, n.d.). AAAD is the acronym that stands for the American Athletics Association of the Deaf. (Panara and Panara, n.d.). One of the branches of the AAAD is the USADB (United States of America Deaf Basketball). (Panara and Panara, n.d.). The USADB is similar to the NBA (National Basketball Association) for hearing players. There is also the Worldwide Deaflympics. (International Committee of Sports for the Deaf, 2015). The USA participates in the Deaflympics with a Deaf elite basketball team comprised of Deaf basketball players that compete against other countries and their Deaf athletes. (Panara and Panara, n.d.) The Deaflympics started in 1924 in Paris and grew fast. (International Committee of Sports for the Deaf, 2015). In 2009, the Men's USA team won their 14th consecutive gold medal. (Whited, 2009). The USA team has been almost unstoppable winning the bronze in 2011 and a silver in 2012, 13 and 14. (Whited, 2009).

Tamika Catchings is a female basketball player who has won three consecutive gold medals as a Deaf athlete in the "hearing" Olympics proving many Deaf athletes compete in hearing athletics as well. (Audicus, 2014). Overcoming the challenges of playing in a Deaf League is a great accomplishment in itself. However, a Deaf player who competes in a hearing league faces additional challenges. (Wilken, 2012).  Although it may seem these challenges could be overwhelming, deaf athletes do it every day. Catchings received the WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association) MVP (Most Valuable Player) award in 2011 for her hard work playing on the women's basketball team. (Audicus, 2014). Lance Allred is the only deaf basketball player to play in NBA history. (Fischer, 2014). In the years of 2005-2007, he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers. (Fischer, 2014). Allred started eight games and in his career averaged 2.3 points and 2.2 rebounds. (Basketball-Reference.Com, n.d.). Before going to play in the pro leagues overseas, Lance Allred played several years in the NBA Development League or the "D-league" which is for players just on the border of making it into the NBA. (Wilken, 2012). Lance Allred is just the first in hopefully a long line of Deaf players to come.

Despite not being able to hear, deaf players have some advantages. Deaf players most likely rely on eye site and are often visual learners. When a coach is showing a play or showing a drill the deaf player will probably pick it up quicker than the hearing player. If a player makes a mistake and the deaf player sees it then he will know not to do it. Deaf players have to work just as hard if not, harder they hearing players. Some Deaf players might not think of hard work as painful because they have had to work through difficulties their whole life. (Wilken, 2012).

So is it harder for a Deaf athlete to earn a collegiate basketball scholarship? There does not appear to be any statistical research on the number of Deaf athletes who receive college scholarships based on their athleticism. Logically, it could be assumed that a Deaf athlete has more of a challenge obtaining athletic scholarships due to a bias of schools and coaches assuming a hearing athlete would be a better player than a Deaf athlete. It would seem the chances of a Deaf player receiving an athletic scholarship would be next to impossible but, it has been done. Michael Lizaragga who played at Cal State Northridge College not only made it to college but also had a successful career. (Markazi, 2010). Michael Lizaragga received an athletic basketball scholarship his senior year in high school. (Markazi, 2010). In his junior year in college, he averaged almost 20 points per game. (Fox Sports, n.d.).

It is rare for anyone to make it to the NBA. There are about 26 million basketball players in the USA. (Sports & Fitness Industry Association, 2012). There are 1,984 colleges that offer a basketball scholarship. (Scholarship Stats.Com, 2013-2014). There are 30 teams with 16 D-league teams and there are only about 450 spots in the NBA. (Wehr, 2014). In its entire history there have been only 3,071 players who have played in the NBA. (Wehr, 2014). That is a small number of Pro players for the 70 years of the NBA. So the chances of a Deaf player to make it to the NBA is close to none. Due to their perseverance, many players have played in highly competitive overseas leagues. Lance Allred is the only male Deaf player who has made it to the NBA. (Basketball-Reference.Com (n.d.).

When push comes to shove it is all just a matter of how hard you work. The Deaf might have to work harder to understand and overcome communication boundaries. The love of basketball has always being in the Deaf community. Now with the Deaflympics and USADB Deaf Basketball is more organized and becoming more known. The game is loved all over the world. Basketball is a universal language. For some, the ball is all they need to feel free. For some, the ball is what relaxes them. To some, the ball lets them show people they are just like everyone else. To some, the ball lets them show people they are not like everyone else and the ball sets them apart. To some, the ball opens a new world, fills a gap, or takes them out of a place they don't want to be in. To some, the ball is life.  The ball doesn't care whether it is heard or not and this is especially true in Deaf Basketball.




Audicus (2014, October 8). 9 Olympic Athletes Who Beat Hearing Loss. Retrieved from


Basketball-Reference.Com (n.d.) Lance Allred. Retrieved from


CBS News. (2011, January 28). Deaf Basketball Teams Amazing Comeback. Retrieved from


Deaf Basketball Australia (n.d.) Coaching Deaf Basketballers. Retrieved from


Deaf Basketball Officials: See It Call It. (2015, March 22). Retrieved from


Fischer, C. (2014). Lance Allred: The First Legally Deaf Player in the NBA. Retrieved from


Fox Sports (n.d.). College Basketball. Retrieved from


International Committee of Sports for the Deaf. (2015) History. Retrieved from


Markazi, A. (2010, March 13) Deaf Players Teammates See Inspiration. Retrieved from


Page, C. (2014, January 8). Deaf Basketball vs. Hearing Basketball. Retrieved from


Panara, R. and Panara, J. (n.d.) Great Deaf Americans. Retrieved from


Scholarship Stats.Com (2013-2014). Chances of a High School Athlete getting an Athletic Scholarship. Retrieved from


Sports & Fitness Industry Association. (2012. March 12). Over 26 Million Americans Play Basketball. Retrieved from Play-Basketball


SVRS. (2015, April). USADB Annual Tournament. Retrieved from

United States of America Deaf Basketball. (2015, April 22). Retrieved from


USA Deaf Sports Federation. (1996-2015). History. Retrieved from


Wehr, J. (2014, January 22). There have been 3,071 NBA players over the past 50 years.  Guess how many had a better start than James Harden. Retrieved from harden/13856/


Whited, C. (2009, September 14). Golden A 14th time!: Men's Basketball Avenges Loss to Lithuania with 90-73 win. Retrieved from


Wilken, K. (2012, May 15). Basketball and The Deaf. Retrieved from


Also see: "Basketball and the Deaf" By Katie Wilken

Notes:  The "Basketball and the Deaf" article by Hunter Clark was submitted 8/23/2015.

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