Amputation! That was almost the fate for 28 year old NBA player prodigy Shaun Livingston when he suffered a horrific knee injury back in 2007. A harrowing injury to his left cap in the form of a dislocation that still haunts those who saw his career discombobulate to this day. Shaun was a raw and rising star on a young Clippers team that was still trying to take the purple and golden shine off Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers before a nixed Chris Paul trade and a lob city taking off just outside of LAX with their power pilot Blake Griffin did so. A Clips team that wanted to recreate the promise of the Elton Brand, Lamar Odom and Darius Miles trilogy with their new potential. Livingston fit the bill of this new hip team with plenty of hops. From the cool, crop circle crafting cornrows to the blown out amazing afro for those big top games, the high socks and sleeves of S.L. showed that he had the style behind the back substance of those street-ball style skills and slams that saved STAPLES from being an all Bryant affair like the departure of Shaquille years before. Still, perhaps those socks where a little too high because Livingston would become the next Miles for the Clips, but in the woefully wrong way. Darius could have become the second-coming of Kevin Garnett and the do-it-all future star of Los Angeles and the league but injuries put an end to his full potential career like the pennies from a Hardaway and the Clipper curse would cruelly continue.
The debilitating injury clawed away at Livingston’s body and spirit with a clash against the Charlotte Bobcats. The smooth star fell awkwardly after a missed lay-up and that looked like all she wrote. Shaun’s left leg snapping laterally and in laymans terms almost every part of his knee was one and done. The guy that was about to rip the league apart tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the posterior crucite ligament (PCL), and the lateral meniscus of his knee and if that wasn’t enough for the injury box-score he significantly sprained his medial collateral ligament (MCL), and dislocating his patella and his tibia-femoral joint. They could have made a ‘the knee bones connected to the hip bone’ song out of all this maddening mess. The instant replay was so graphic it came with parental advisory stickers for its explicit content. This was no joke however as doctors told the young valiant star that they may have to take his leg. It would take months of rehab before he’d walk again…if ever. Suddenly the other hundred or so games he missed early in his career due to being injury prone didn’t matter. Suddenly the Clippers-at that time-best regular season record in 2005 to 2006 that he helped accumulate didn’t matter either. Neither did the amazing assist high of 14 against Golden State for his career. Neither did the breakout year he was having before the breakdown. None of it mattered at that moment. The young man that led Concordia Lutheran Grade School and Peoria Central High School to two LSA titles and two Class AA ones respectively whilst becoming a McDonalds All-American was trying to digest something far more important to his lifes nutrition. One of the ‘100 Legends of the IHSA Boys Basketball Tournament’ and a man that skipped the prestigious Duke university alumni to be one of the last legacy making high-school players to go straight to the league had something bigger to deal with than living up to the lofty expectations of his fourth pick in the ’04 draft. This guy wanted more than just to play again.
He wanted to be able to walk again. The road to recovery was going to be a long one but the tall 6 foot 7 point guard, with a 6, 11 wingspan that drew comparisons to another tall L.A. point named Johnson wanted to show the world true magic like a Mos Def album most definitely and defiantly. The road may have been long and winding but Livingston was determined to take it all with both feet planted firmly on the ground, all the way until his sneakers reached hardwood. As slight as the 175 pound 2004 Illinois Mr. Basketball was he wanted to show and prove like Evander Holyfield once said, “It is not the size of a man but the size of his heart that matters”. Boy, does this kid have heart too like a boxer seconds from out. When most players would shriek and shrink from an injury like this and fade into the obscurity of the D-league, Europe or the millionaires comfortable cheque of retirement, Shaun showed his career was far from the dead and continued living instead of surviving like the first part of his surname. The journey back took almost seven years, three shy of a decade and all of what many consider an NBA players-a guard especially-prime. Still at 28, Shaun is still young and still here minus the youthful ‘fro and fail thrown passes. The maturity is there as well as the recovery. With much more time on the clock this is one appreciative argument for skipping college for the pros and the graduation that comes from personal and professional growth through any adversity. Now that is truly where amazing happens in this NBA league. The Clips may have left their injured young star a free agent in 2008 but this blessing in bittersweet disguise helped Shaun Livingston become the man and name he is today. At that moment with everything against him he truly became free and the person he was meant to be.
The player he was always meant to be too, because he was far from done. This case for the ‘Most Improved Player’ has a ‘Most Inspiring’ chapter to this storybook ending for the verses and stanzas. Amazingly as early as the Summer of 2008-just a year and a few months change since the horrific injury-doctors allowed Shaun to continue the kind of Basketball activities Laker fans want Kobe to be able to carry on and carry out today. His leg was saved and now it was up to this heroic and brave young man to save his career before the scouts forgot him along with the critics and analysts who should really look for a new job right now. Looking for a big-league contract and comeback the Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers took inspired interest but there was no guarantees. Inking a deal with the Miami Heat got Shaun’s talented career the break it needed, but cooled off averages of a point and some in the garbage time of less than a weeks worth of scheduled games made this a slow and steady race. A trade to Memphis then came before Livingston was placed on waivers before the time he even got to check out the state of Tennessee. It was time and tide to show the NBA his development from the shadows before a career curtain call came. So Shaun headed to the Tulsa 66ers of the D-league to show the association that he deserved to be back in the band of brothers via the sister league. Thank the Basketball purist God’s for the D-leagues potential because the 66’ers associated Oklahoma City Thunder drafted him out of there with a multi-year deal. Unfortunately however this contract wouldn’t outlast a calendar year and Livingston was released yet again, but I bet the team that gave up James Harden wishes they still had another product of big hair even with their championship caliber now. The addition of a player like Shaun would guarantee a chip like that contract security this young man so desperately craved.
This career depression looked cruelly even worse than the injury that floored him and started this whole mess off. Still, keeping his head up and cleaning up his game Shaun Livingston never gave up despite all the years of hurt and heartbreak that would reduce most players and men-even years and teams older-to physical and mental breakdowns. 10 day contracts may be one of the best things for the redemption of raw or injury ravaged players like Livingston because after signing one with the Washington Wizards to begin the second decade of the new millennium he began spells in D.C. and with the Charlotte Bobcats. Ironically with the team that he played against when he almost ended his career, his playing time looked like it was coming back and just getting started with these ‘cats. Despite the basement dwelling and the down and outs, Shaun was just happy to be playing and really performing. Becoming an NBA journeyman and not the franchise face he hoped to be early in his career, Livingston was bounced around the league and America from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Houston Rockets and then back to Washington before he hit the lows of a post-LeBron Cleveland. We just hope he got enough room on all those flights for that knee. Still in-between all the teams and tears of a career turned into a classic case of what could have been, Livingston finally found renaissance from injury and the injustice of an oft-ignored career redemption from a franchise that was looking for their own one leaving New Jersey for Brooklyn, hitting downtown New York with a new battle for the Big Apple against the Knicks behind their king owner (former) and rap legend Jay-Z and his business plan. Originally signed by legendary Point Guard coach Jason Kidd to back-up best P.G. in the league Deron Williams for one year, Shaun Livingston has proven to be Brooklyn’s finest for this franchise. So much so that Jason will keep this kid like he’ll keep his tie-off when this guy is playing.
Despite Williams all-star lead and the billionaire power of Mikhail Prokhorov bringing in former Celtic big-three champions Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to shoot and shout down the opposition with the likes of one of the last few big men in Brook Lopez and Russian gunner Andrei Kirilenko, the Nets have more gains when it comes to Shaun. We aren’t talking about tha Carter either although the play of S-Dot Livingston has drawn the best rapper alive and former owner back to his courtside seat. Even with Beyonce sitting next to him the purist fans are focused on the floor and the guy that’s dancing on it like his knee never saw the knife. These Brooklyn nights are even more exciting than those Marvel comics (and you thought Peter Parker’s amazing Spider-Man was this towns hero and latest scoop) with a story as inspirational as the one of teammate Jason Collins’ comeback. With the injury of big-stars and the ageing of former legends this team needed something more than the steady scoring of Joe Johnson. Beyond the all-star talent they still needed the hunger for more. The type of killer instinct that comes from a guy that almost lost it all…and that my basketball friends comes from Shaun. More than his wing opening back-court play or his gritty defensive hounding. More than the fact that he can still shoot and slam his way to spark-plug and clutch plays, this guy is something. More than statistics, it’s more like persistence and that’s real power in this league full of quote-en-quote “power” players. The real star is the former young buck that now has the veteran savvy to take the prime and the rest of his career beyond the waivers and injured-reserve lists while he takes his team even further. ‘DNP-CD’ will no longer come next to this mans name, but something with the word ‘most’ in and champion might. LeBron, Miami, Chicago, the East and the west of the league led by Kevin Durant and Oklahoma beware. The turnaround of this money brought Nets powerhouse came from a man that turned his whole life around and cost less than the buck and change he weighs. The Barclays Centre can bank on this kid taking them to the current success of the big-league pay-offs. It’s more than money when it comes to the heart and soul of Shaun. Its the 23 point high note or the 8.5 points per 100 possessions better this team becomes when he’s on the floor. The same floor it almost all ended for Livingston. The same floor he’ll always leave it all out there on. Now THAT is how you comeback. Amazing!