The metal necklace that hangs around Shaun Livingston’s neck is subtle but meaningful. So is the bracelet he carefully secures around his left wrist.
Livingston doesn’t want to live in the past — replay the knee injury, dwell on all the teams that shifted him around the league — but he doesn’t want to forget all the hurdles he has overcome to reach this point either. He slips on two pieces of jewelry as constant reminders.
“This is a bolt, like from a toolbox,” he said, lifting the necklace off his t-shirt. “It’s screwed together. I bought it in Paris three summers ago and it was something that reminds me of hard work.”
“This,” he continued, maneuvering the silver clasp with his free hand, “is kind of like a bungee bracelet for pilots. It’s for a sense of humility and endurance.”
They are small symbols of a much larger story, one that shockingly began February 26, 2007 and has reshaped his career every day since then.
“I feel like I’ve played three careers,” Livingston said. “Pre-injury, injury, post-injury.”
The journey started out as planned on Draft Night back in 2004. The Los Angeles Clippers selected Livingston with the fourth overall pick straight out of Peoria Central High School. Livingston was a 6’7 guard who, at age 19, had years ahead of him to develop into an NBA talent.
He took the court each night with feelings of hopefulness and optimism. After all, he was in his early 20s and already achieving his dreams. Livingston had goals he wanted to reach, and time was on his side.
“I was just trying to get better,” he told Basketball Insiders. “Basketball was a lot of expectations. It was exciting and new. It was fun. But it only lasted a couple seasons.”
Three minutes and 50 seconds into a midseason game against the then-Charlotte Bobcats, everything changed. On a drive to the basket, Livingston suffered a laundry list of painstaking injuries, including torn ligaments and a dislocated kneecap in his left knee. The first chapter in his young career seemed to come to a screeching, unexpected conclusion. He was only 22 years old, with 145 NBA games under his belt.
Livingston’s injury is one of the more gruesome in recent sports history. But that moment doesn’t depict the tumultuous grind Livingston faced in order to play the game that had come so naturally to him.
“Seeing how high the mountain was right after surgery, being wheeled out to rehab, that was tough,” he said. “There were a lot of cliffs.”
Leading up to the NBA, it was easy to tell in which path Livingston would follow. He was a McDonald’s All-American in high school and originally had committed to Duke University. NBA success certainly seemed to be in his future.
But when his future became a schedule of rehab appointments, it was challenging for him to chase a goal without certainty of when he would be able to attain it.
“Every day getting up, not knowing (was difficult),” Livingston, now 29, said. “I can’t even ride a bike, so how am I going to play? But you just don’t know. That’s (how I felt) after six-to-eight weeks. It was tough.”
The injury not only took Livingston off the court, it also took him away from the Clippers. The practices, the game nights, the plane and bus rides with his teammates, those were gone. He found himself with a lot of alone time, an unfamiliar feeling while his team moved on with their season.
“Obviously (there were) some dark days,” he said. “I wasn’t around basketball as much. I was just trying to focus on me, so that was the hardest part.”
Livingston missed the entire 2007-08 season. That summer the Clippers declined his qualifying offer and renounced their rights to him. He signed with the Miami HEAT in October 2008, and made his return that season.
From there he began bouncing around the NBA. He has either signed with or has been traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder, Washington Wizards (twice), then-Bobcats, Milwaukee Bucks, Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Brooklyn Nets and currently the Golden State Warriors. Livingston has worn 10 jerseys in as many seasons.
“It was a lot of stuff — being cut, moving around, teams not really wanting you,” he said. “I got over it honestly with just persistence, staying with it. It was frustrating. You get down but you can’t stay down.”
It was during the 2010 season when Livingston finally began to feel like himself again. He signed a 10-day contract with the Wizards in late February, which resulted in a deal for the remainder of the season. The team was facing the absence of Gilbert Arenas due to a suspension, and there were opportunities for Livingston.
He felt more comfortable back on the court, thanks to then-head coach Flip Saunders. Livingston averaged 9.2 points and 4.5 assists over 26 games, just shy of his numbers pre-injury. During that time his usage percent increased to 17.4, mirroring his final season with the Clippers. Livingston felt like he belonged.
“Flip Saunders, he revived my career,” said Livingston. “He believed in me and gave me a chance, one. Two, it was after the whole Gilbert Arenas fiasco. We were young, it was a rebuilding situation. He taught me the game, he’s an offensive genius. He kind of changed his offense to tailor (to) my game, so he really put me in a position to excel.”
Five years later after that stint on the Wizards, Livingston has settled into another home, and another role, on the Golden State Warriors. After a solid campaign with the Nets last season (8.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists), he earned a multi-year contract with the Western Conference powerhouse to enhance their bench.
Livingston is averaging 13.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists over his last five games, a stretch which includes a season-high 21 points against the Clippers and a double-double against the Dallas Mavericks. The Warriors will look to him as a reliable contributor in their playoff push. He has been there before, making two postseason runs with the Clippers and Nets in the early and later stages of his career.
The 2015 playoffs will be yet another chapter in the story of Livingston’s career. To him, his 10th season in the NBA feels like his 27th.
“When you’re grinding,” he points out, “it goes by fast.”
Few players know more about the grind than he does.
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