Sean Livingston defied the odds of injury and is on the comeback trail with a vengeance.
In sports, many stories exist of unrealized potential soiling dreams of superstars never becoming such. Debilitating injuries seem to be the biggest obstacle for the aforementioned to enter a historical parallel with past, present, and future iconic athletes; names mentioned first in conversations about the best this or the most exciting that. These are the athletes affected by not reaching (for them) such an attainable goal where pre-injury a self-sense of indestructibility was as strong as cast iron. Their lives are focused on one thing only and that’s a successful culmination to a childhood dream. When a horrific injury happens before the world, how do athletes get up? How did Shaun Livingston get up?
How do they come back and prove they are worth the money? How do they ensure their families will be taken care of if they cannot continue their careers? How do the athletes guarantee they won’t be injured in the same way again? How do they escape that fear? How do they deal with the emptiness of a career incomplete? Shaun Livingston is one to not worry about these questions because it never entered his mind that he wouldn’t play again. For that, he is an inspiration to many. A knee injury such as his ends careers and even if careers don’t end, usually the player is just not the same.
When I spoke to Livingston in ‘08 for SLAM, I felt confident his words afterward would come true. His eyes weren’t dead. He didn’t appear to be weighed down by the long process before him even if it wasn’t with his team at the time, the Miami Heat (I bet Miami wishes they had him now). He took it coolly as a challenge and maybe it was this challenge that he needed to conquer by himself.
Livingston speaks to that: “Nah, it’s really been something I’ve done on my own. A lot of family…friends…a lot of mental support. My situation is unique. People were definitely lookin’ out. Cats would say you see Penny with his knee?”
Yes, we all know about Penny. Anfernee Hardaway, like Livingston, was a 6 foot 7 lead guard equipped with every skill needed to become an all-time great. Unfortunately after a left hamstring injury basically ruined his career because of how it affected his left knee, he was never the same.
Livingston was the 4th overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft out of Peoria Central in Peoria, Illinois and originally signed with Duke. Once he laced ‘em up for the Clips, most thought the do-everything guard would develop into a superstar very quickly. He wasn’t as spectacular a scorer as Hardaway, but his versatility rivaled anyone in the league. Point guard extraordinarie with a triple-double type flair, Livingston was part of a Clippers team in ’05-’06 that won 47 games before eventually losing to the Suns in a boss 7-game Western Conference Semis. Then on February 26, 2007, he came down after a missed layup off the break and landed in the most gruesome of ways. Seeing the game, what I remembered most is Livingston screaming in pain. His knee was totally destroyed. He dislocated his knee cap and his tibia-femoral joint, tore the ACL, PCL, retinaculum and lateral meniscus while also badly spraining his MCL. He knew that knee cap pain because he separated his right kneecap in his rookie season and maybe that rehab lessened Livingston’s anxiety with a 2nd serious knee injury. If Jasen Powell didn’t pop Livingston’s knee back in place after he suffered the injury on the floor, there was a chance his leg would have been amputated because blood circulation would have been affected with his knee and leg basically going in different directions.
Yeah, that’s sick in the worse way. His injury is one of the worst sports has ever seen.
Livingston missed the entire next season and played in a total of 96 games over the next 2 years for 4 teams (also for Tulsa of the NBDL) before he caught on with Charlotte and played a career-high 73 games in ’10-’11. Then another stretch of bouncing around, and he’s played for another four teams before his current stop with Brooklyn.
2004–2008 Los Angeles Clippers
2008–2009 Miami Heat
2009 Tulsa 66ers (D-League)
2009 Oklahoma City Thunder
2010 Washington Wizards
2010–2011 Charlotte Bobcats
2011–2012 Milwaukee Bucks
2012 Washington Wizards
2012–2013 Cleveland Cavaliers
2013–present Brooklyn Nets
Now with the Nets, Livingston looks to be completely healthy. Some say he’s saved Brooklyn’s season while Deron Williams was out. There was the 108-102 home win vs. Philly where Livingston put up 14 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and a career-high seven steals vs. the only other player in the NBA that has such a stat line this season, rookie Michael Carter-Williams. He’s hell on the passing lanes with all of his 6-foot-7 frame and incredible 6-foot 11-wingspan, can defend 1 through 4 and plays shooting guard when asked.
His steal vs. the two-time defending champion Miami Heat sealed a win and ran Brooklyn’s season record vs. LeBron and co. to 3-0.
He’s a perfect fit for the Nets especially with the multi-versatile Jason Kidd at the helm. Kidd understands Livingston’s game being he was an Oscar (what I call triple-doubles. Shouts to Oscar Robertson) threat in every game he played. Who can question Shaun Livingston leadership, resolve and versatility? Current averages of 7.9 points, 3.1 dimes, 3.1 rips and a steal a game won’t jump off the page, but what Livingston gives Brooklyn is nightly effort directing pressure away from the entire team because within the team dynamic also comes a personal determination to get it all back. Brooklyn was gifted with a number one pick showing and proving an immediate impact in a sense. Don’t think he’s satisfied, and missing so many games over the years could actually be a blessing. The movie script that’s become his career is airing right now before the basketball world. Look close and you can see a smile on his face and what that says is he’s happy to be back and comfortable on the court.
I also asked him about the short and long term goals back then and again, what struck me was how matter of fact he was despite knowing how difficult the road he was about to travel:
“Short and long. I’m trying to push myself to try to get pain free. I’m able to play. Today was a day where it was real sore. Just wasn’t right. It’s up and down, up and down. That’s really where it’s at this year. Gotta pull forward. Long term, I’m just trying to have it so it’s steady so I can play without no pain, limitations or any of that.”
He knew the lengthy rehab would be painfully excruciating because of the limited mobility after the injury.
“Definitely, definitely. It’s a process. It’s not going to be tomorrow. I see that down the road. Working out, day in and day out is what I need to shoot for. Then when I’m back playing I can deal with the player that I was. Even further than that…be…better. Be the player people expect me to be.
If you remember, his injury was the talk of the NBA. Could you imagine all the people that looked at him as if he had died because of how graphically his knee exploded? Think about the mental and physical daily drain in times Livingston was nowhere near returning to the floor. Those thoughts should be passed to every man, woman, and child having an ability but fearing success because in those thoughts persistence simply needs no assistance. The fuel in that drive never dissipates.
“Really, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. That’s the simple thing. One of those simple phrases but uh…I started out on top coming in…high in the draft…a lot of this…a lot of that with all the expectations. See, one play can take you right back down. Whatever you are doing, stay on your grind, and maintain focus and you can do it, but it starts with you. Nobody else. Ain’t nobody gotta do the work but me to get back on the court playing. That’s the advice everybody should take.”
He’s noncommittal on his future in Brooklyn and surely he’ll command more than what the Nets can offer – which is mini-MLE (mid-level exception) at $3.3 million or $10 million over three years. For now, Brooklyn is winning, in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division and Livingston has become a success story. He’s committed to charity in his hometown and a long way away from the 21-year-old shrieking so loud, the entire arena could hear. Because of the threat of injury to any athlete at any time, Livingston is a great example why an NBA age limit shouldn’t exist.
I wonder what Penny thinks of Livingston. Do you think he admires Livingston’s resolve and determination? I would think so. Moving forward in the season, think of the playoff possiblilites when Shaun Livingston gets his shot to show the world he is truly back. What did Hov say? Something about dreaming about the get back?
Sometimes life takes you in an unconventional zig-zag and what you learn along the way is how much you can handle when it seems nothing but adversity is before you. At 28 years old, Shaun Livingston has a shot to make his career shine in ways he and the rest of us envisioned when initially hearing his name and seeing his game. Whether in Brooklyn or somewhere else next season, the best thing about Livingston is that he is happy on the floor again. If you know someone wasting their potential in any facet of life, show them that video and tell them his story. Pause and wait for their reaction, because maybe you yourself will also be inspired by the look in their eyes. Shaun Livingston is back and his story is one of a basketball love and determined inspiration. Welcome back Shaun Livingston.