Anyone who watches TV knows that almost any sport is open to the deaf. Some work better than others however, and one of those is basketball. Visibility in a well-lit arena is optimum day or night and communication is easy between players and with officials. With some adaptation and amending of rules, hearing and non-hearing teams can actually go head to head in a fair manner without undue advantage on one side, although it is more common for deaf teams to limit themselves to their own tournaments.
As with any activity, sign language is used by the deaf. In sports, this may pose a few extra difficulties in term of interrupting play to reach others. As applicable, many deaf players wear hearing aids. What is allowed is dictated by national and world associations such as Deaf Basketball Australia and the International Basketball Federation (which cooperates with Deaflympics). This makes a uniform platform for competition and ensures an even playing field. Many private groups around the world are dedicated to fostering deaf basketball and expanding the sport. For younger ages, participation helps build confidence, leadership, ethics, and teamwork.
There are numerous elite deaf athletes in the world of basketball. Some go on to play on hearing teams such as Lance Allred of the NBA, who has done what few have attempted. The rarity of this exception denotes the difficulty involved. Those players who do find positions on hearing teams need to develop a specific relationship with their coaches and may even require an interpreter be present. Fellow athletes will learn to face the hearing-impaired to facilitate communication and make lip-reading an option.
The important point in considering the role of the deaf on hearing teams is avoid negative assumptions. Expectations do not have to diminish and should not be lowered. Be clear and simple in coaching instructions. You don’t have to be over obvious or conspicuous. Every team member should be treated the same as much as possible. They want to assimilate and can do so with ease, given the opportunity. A case in point is Michael Lizarraga who played on the college team of Cal State Northridge before going pro.. The 6 ft 7 division 1 player had a special instinct for the game according to witnesses. Coaches attested to his ability to absorb information with his eyes: he was uniquely attuned to non-verbal cues. Colleagues loved his sense of humor and use of pantomime and facial expressions to communicate. (Some said his face was as malleable as putty!) There was complete understanding on this stellar team.
Osei Morris doesn’t know the meaning of physical challenge. The LA Stars (ABA) welcomed him with open arms while many fellow players learned sign language to facilitate his acculturation. Then there is Emma Meesseman of the Washington Mystics.
As a result of great role models, the hearing impaired are not barred from their favorite sport. As Allred has stated, “growing up deaf, people all my life told me what I can’t do.” Well basketball, isn’t one of them. So many organizations are joining hands to encourage and advance it worldwide, maximizing playing opportunities. Kids can start young and go on to college and pro teams.