Shaun Livingston is a warrior, literally and figuratively.
Livingston entered the league straight out of Peoria Central High School with potential as immense as his gigantic afro at the time. He drew comparisons to “Penny” Hardaway as a 6-foot-7 pass-first point guard.
However, Livingston’s life changed in the blink of an eye when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL) and lateral meniscus while coming down from a layup on February 26, 2007. He also suffered a kneecap (patella) and a tibiofemoral dislocation.
It was a heartbreaking end to Livingston’s tenure with the Clippers after being drafted fourth overall by the organization in 2004. Livingston was averaging 9.3 points and 5.1 assists in 29.8 minutes per game, all career highs, at the time of his injury.
Livingston would miss the rest of that season and the following season as well before beginning the life of an NBA journeyman at 23. Livingston had to fight for playing time and prove he could still play, suiting up for seven different teams over a four-year period.
At 28, Livingston signed as a free agent with the Brooklyn Nets. He began the season as a backup point guard to Deron Williams before ultimately pairing with him in the starting backcourt by the end of the season, starting a career-high 54 games, and remaining a starter during the playoffs.
“Yeah, there are defining moments, I think, to every player’s career,” Livingston told Basketball Insiders. “A lot of players, you have defining moments where you have certain opportunities, you’re put into a certain light or a platform where it’s kind of put up or shut up. I think that was one of mine, where it was like I knew the type of opportunity I was getting coming to play with those guys, with the attention, everything that was coming in. It was a long season, it didn’t start out the way I wanted it, but I just kept sticking with it and I just got my shot with D-Will going down and made the most of it, turned the season around. That’s all I could’ve asked for.”
Livingston’s lone season in Brooklyn was a turning point in his career as the Warriors rewarded him with a three-year, $16.6 million contract in free agency the following summer.
In the midst of his 12th season, Livingston has played for a total of 10 different teams. With that in mind, how would the former high school star and high lottery pick describe his journey as a pro?
“A journey of perseverance, a journey of faith, a journey of resolve,” Livingston told Basketball Insiders. “Just to keep going. Obviously, there are a lot of pitfalls or a lot of plateaus, a lot of places where it was just a roller coaster, up and down. So, enjoying the journey, enjoying the opportunities that I’ve had. They weren’t given to me, especially after my injury, so being in a position where I can enjoy playing the game of basketball, competing at a high level and doing something I love to do, it’s just as simple as that.”
It’s astonishing to hear the phrase “simple as that” from a player who has endured so much on and off the court.
Did Livingston ever toss and turn at night wondering what could have been if he never got hurt on such a freakish injury?
“No, I don’t think like that,” Livingston told Basketball Insiders. “I’m not wired to think like that. That’s why I felt like I’ve been able to make it to this point where I’m at now. It’s because I haven’t necessarily looked back or focused on the past. It’s all about being present, so I can take what’s coming at me, each opportunity, you never know. Like being in the Finals, playing in the Finals. How many players get a chance to play in the Finals? I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but it’s the most amazing thing ever. Some guys never get a shot even to go. Playing in front of the pressure, in front of the world, you just be in the moment and don’t worry about ‘what if,’ or ‘what could,’ or ‘what should.’”
Livingston has found a home in Golden State after being a journeyman through most of his 20s and wants to keep it that way for the foreseeable future. Livingston will be an unrestricted free agency this summer.
“I’d love to stay,” Livingston told Basketball Insiders. “It’s been home for me, the Bay has welcomed me with open arms. I love it out there. But, we’ll see what happens. Obviously, decisions have to be made and you just roll with the punches.”
It’s only the second time in Livingston’s career where he’s been with a team for two or more seasons, the first time since beginning his career with the Clippers.
“It means a lot,” Livingston told Basketball Insiders. “Especially, to be competitive, compete for championships year in and year out. To find a place where guys believe in you, to become an integral part of the team, what they’re trying to do, what they’re trying to accomplish. It gives you confidence to go out there and just be yourself.”
The target is on Golden State’s back and they know it after adding Kevin Durant and forming a star-studded quartet with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
“Obviously, we’re competing for a championship, that’s a given, but enjoy these guys,” Livingston told Basketball Insiders. “You never know how long it’s going to last, that’s what I realized. Obviously, being around 10 different teams, you never know. We tried to enjoy that moment last year. Year in and year out, I try and enjoy each and every guy, enjoy practice, enjoy just the camaraderie, not just being on the court but off the court too.”
Nearly a decade after Livingston’s devastating knee injury, a trip to the Finals and playing again on the game’s biggest stage would be fitting for the team’s ultimate warrior.
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