Shaun Livingston is living the dream that he always knew was out there for him when he jumped straight to the NBA out of Peoria (IL) High School in 2004. It just took a little longer than he may have initially thought.
When Shaun Livingston was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers at just 18-years-old, he brought with him a lot of pressure. Taken with the fourth overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, Livingston was coming off of his second straight high school championship, was Illinois’ Mr. Basketball, a First Team Parade All-American and was selected to play in the prestigious McDonald’s All-American Game as well. Shaun had accepted a scholarship offer to play for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, a commitment that his grandfather, Frank, and his father, Reggie, wanted him to stick to, but Livingston opted for the NBA. Projected as the top point guard available, Livingston knew how tough his decision would be and was very open and honest about it in a 2004 interview with the Chicago Tribune.
“I’ve always wanted grandpa to be proud of me, and I want him to see me play in the NBA. I’ll use the same procedure that enabled me to pick Duke. I’ll listen to my family and close friends.”
“I’m not going to pretend–the money is going to be a big part of it. This is a huge opportunity for me. We’ll see. This will be the biggest decision of my life. Whatever happens, I hope Coach K understands.”
Livingston said in a 2013 interview with The Chronicle that Coack K did understand. Nearly 10 years removed from the draft, Livingston was in Durham training with the Brooklyn Nets and spoke to his would-have-been coach about the “what if” factor.
“He says, ‘I wish I could’ve got you for a year,’ but he says the number four pick wasn’t a bad option. That was just one of those things where it was tough. He definitely competed against all the other schools and won out, but against the number four pick, that’s a pretty tough competition.”
Competition hadn’t been much of an issue for Livingston before the NBA. He dominated kids his own age and constantly played against competition older than him, including pickup games in a certain Inquisitr writer’s driveway. Shaun’s teams at Concordia Lutheran went a combined 87-0 during his 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grade years and after playing his first two years at Richwoods High School, Livingston transferred to Peoria High and won the aforementioned state titles. The NBA, however, was a different story.
Injury troubles hit Shaun early in his career, and he played in just 30 games in his rookie season. Starting 15 of them, Shaun played decently, averaging 7.4 points and five assists in the ’04-’05 season. The following season, playing behind veteran Sam Cassell, Shaun would see productivity drop a tad, but played in 61 games as the Clippers had their best record in three decades and won their first playoff series since moving to California in the late 1970s. Livingston would take this knowledge into the following season and was averaging 9.7 points and 5.1 assists in nearly 30 minutes per night. And then it happened.
That night, February 26, 2007, should have been the night that ended Shaun Livingston’s career. Landing wrong on a layup attempt against the Charlotte Bobcats, Livingston’s left knee dislocated and he injured nearly every part of the knee as the leg snapped laterally. He tore his ACL, PCL, and lateral meniscus. He sprained his MCL and dislocated his patella and tibio-fibular joint. Remember the injury that ended Joe Theismann’s career? This was worse.
At one point, it was thought that Livingston would lose his leg, but Shaun was determined to make it back and recently said that his age was a big factor in making it back.
“It takes a lot. It’s faith, but it’s also a lot of work that I put in rehabbing every day and then training your body.”
“What also helped me, I was 21, so having youth on my side and being able to heal, go through those phases. It would have been a different situation at 31 as opposed to 21.”
At 21, Shaun Livingston had to start over. He rehabbed for 20 months, missing the rest of the ’06-’07 season and the entire ’07-’08 season, at which point the Clippers did not make a qualifying offer, making Livingston an unrestricted free agent. Thus began the years and years of musical chairs for Shaun as he bounced around the NBA, desperate to find a team that would trust that he could regain the form that made him a lottery pick in the first place.
He signed with the Miami Heat prior to the ’08-’09 season but played in just four games before being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies on January 7, 2009. He was waived later that same day. Two months later, Livingston signed with the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA D-League before signing a multi-year deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder a few weeks later. He played 18 games before being waived that December. In February 2010, he signed a 10-day contract with the Washington Wizards and wound up finishing the season with them, averaging 9.2 points and 4.4 assists in nearly 26 minutes per night, which earned him a two-year contract with the Charlotte Bobcats prior to the ’10-’11 season. Shaun played in 73 games, but was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks following the season. After 58 games in Milwaukee, Livingston was traded to the Rockets, but was waived before the season started. He returned to Washington but was waived before he ever played a game and caught on with the Cleveland Cavaliers to finish out the ’12-’13 season, averaging 7.2 points in 49 games.
From there, Livingston was brought to the Brooklyn Nets to back up point guard Deron Williams, but after a season-ending injury to Brook Lopez, Shaun found himself in the starting lineup and started 54 out of a then-career-high 76 games played. Playing a key role in the Nets’ run to the playoffs, Livingston earned himself a three-year, $16 million contract with Golden State and has finally found a home with the Warriors. He was a key reserve in the Warriors’ first championship in 40 years a season ago and realizes that his injury, while devastating, only made him a stronger person. He had to reinvent his game, which includes an old-school mid-range jumper, and knows his role as a 30-year-old veteran.
“Coming back from my injury, I had to be extremely efficient because I didn’t have as much rope in the lineups and rotations as I did when I was with the Clippers. So it was sticking to my comfort zone, and that’s kind of what I’ve done.”
What Livingston has done is become “the most valuable guy off the bench in the NBA”. At least that’s what Charles Barkley has to say about him.
Charles Barkley on Shaun Livingston: “the most valuable guy off the bench in the NBA in my opinion.”
— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) April 22, 2016
As the Warriors brought their record-setting 73 wins into the playoffs, there seemed to be nothing that could stop them from repeating as NBA champions, until Steph Curry went down with an injury in the first round against the Houston Rockets. Up to the challenge, Shaun stepped up and averaged 14 points over the next three games and happily stepped back when the two-time MVP returned. He’s had numerous momentum-changing plays throughout these playoffs and when Curry and Klay Thompson went cold in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, it was Shaun Livingston who came through in the clutch, going for a team-high 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting and committing zero turnovers in the Warriors’ 104-89 victory. He also added seven points and five assists in Golden State’s 110-77 blowout win in Game 2 and is shooting a staggering 79 percent from the floor in the series.
After years of bouncing around the league, the kid from Peoria has finally gotten the chance to prove that he belongs and he’s taken full advantage of it. His journey is one of the most incredible comeback stories in the history of sports. Shaun Livingston was once told that he may never walk again. Just nine years later, he’s got an NBA championship, may win another at some point this week, and has earned the respect of everyone in the NBA. It may have taken a little longer than he expected, but Shaun Livingston is living the dream. And it couldn’t happen to a better guy.
[Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images]