It's all a best-case scenario for the amazingly rebounded Shaun Livingston
Shaun Livingston says he feels good about carrying a 2-0 lead into Saturdays Game 3 of the Trail Blazers-Warriors series at Moda Center.
Its the best-case scenario for us going on the road to Portland, the Golden State guard says.
The same can be said for Livingstons lot in life in his 12th NBA year.
Best-case scenario, after a 2007 catastrophic knee injury left his career and his physical well-being in serious jeopardy.
Livingston is one of the games true success stories, the latest chapter coming as a key reserve for the Warriors as they continue their quest for a second straight league championship.
When Livingston, 31, accepted his ring for the 2015-16 in a ceremony before the Warriors home opener in October, a flood of emotions rained down.
It was unbelievable, it really was, Livingston says. You talk about the journey Ive been on being in and out of the NBA going to summer leagues to try to make rosters being cut from sub-.500 teams to playing a key role on a championship team being out there with that type of responsibility and trust from people who believe in you just an an amazing feeling.
It was like all my emotions erupted to the top, me being on the top of the mountain.
The 6-7, 190-pound Livingston was a prep phenom at Peoria (Illinois) Central High, a kid with cornrows and the court vision of Magic Johnson. He signed with Duke but declared for the draft and was the No. 4 pick by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2004, when high-schoolers still could go directly to the NBA.
Livingston was a developing third-year point guard for the Clippers, still only 21 years old and in his first season as a starter, when the injury occurred in Feb. 27 in a game against Charlotte. For reference, see Shaun Livingston, broken knee, on YouTube. Its not for the faint of heart.
On a breakaway layup trying to beat a defender, Livingstons legs did the splits, his left leg splayed 90 degrees, a scene described by one writer as Bambi on Ice. It was Joe Theismann-like. Painful to watch. Livingston never has.
There have been times where Ive clicked on something and that play comes up on YouTube, and I change it right away, he says.
Livingston had torn three of the four knee ligaments ACL, PCL and MCL and sustained a dislocated patella and tibia-femoral joint.
The dislocation of the knee was the hardest part, because your knee is out of socket, he says.
Livingston was fortunate on several counts.
The team physician, Dr. Steven Shimoyama, wrenched his kneecap back into place after several attempts within minutes after the accident.
Saved my career, Livingston says. I would have had to drive to the hospital with my kneecap out of place, and there could have been more damage.
When Livingston arrived at the emergency room, there was talk of amputation of the limb if any damage had been done to the major artery in the knee. That wasnt the case.
Two weeks later, after the swelling had subsided, the surgery was performed by two of the best in the business, James Andrews and William Clancy. They put him in the most optimal situation to recover. Even so, the concern at the time wasnt so much whether he would return to the basketball court, but if hed be able to walk normally again.
Livingston went through the rehab process with diligence, but there were no guarantees, nor immediate results. He missed the entire 2007-08 season, then was released by the Clippers in July. About that time, he delved into other ventures, including creation of a movie production company, thinking basketball might not be in his future.
I wanted to explore other avenues, he says. I was only 21. Id put everything I had into basketball to that point, but the future suddenly wasnt so certain.
Livingston made it back for 12 games late in the 2008-09 season with Miami and Oklahoma City. It began an odyssey that took him to the D-League and seven NBA teams over the next six years. He was never with a club for more than a full season over that span.
There were parts that were frustrating, he says. The unknown. Being bounced around. Having to pick yourself up. Being waived is very discouraging. There were some humbling moments. I had to pick up the pieces, do some soul-searching and keep pushing.
Livingston had some things going for him. He rehabbed hard and was in good shape, both physically and mentally. He had a great support system, including his brother, Art Jones, who is 15 years older and lived with him during much of that period.
Those positive influences helped me look at it from the right perspective, Livingston says. I had things to remind me it wasnt the end of the world. It wasnt like I was going to jail or losing my life.
In 2012, Livingston began work with trainer Manning Sumner in Miami.
Id lost some athleticism going through the years of rehab and with the trauma of the injury, Livingston says. Manning trains a lot of NFL players, and I went through a strong regimen of high-intensity, crossfit workouts with him. He pushed my body the most it had been pushed, and it responded. I was the healthiest Id been since before the injury.
Livingston played well as a backup with Brooklyn in 2013-14, averaging 8.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 76 games with the Nets. Coach Jason Kidd told Jerry West who had begun work as a consultant and executive board member with Golden State that Livingston was one of his favorite players.
The Warriors signed him to a three-year free-agent contract before the 2014-15 season. He responded with some great play off the bench, averaging 5.9 points while shooting .500 from the field and coming up big when the club needed him most.
Livingston was even better this season, averaging 6.3 points while shooting a career-best .536 in 78 regular-season games. With Stephen Curry missing due to injuries, Livingston has stepped in as a starter and has averaged 13.8 points on .548 shooting in the Warriors last six playoff games.
Theres some old-school to Livingstons game. He doesnt have a 3-point shot he has made 12 of 63 attempts in his career from beyond the arc but possesses an excellent pull-up mid-range jumper and a viable post-up move over shorter defenders.
Im capable of shooting 3s, but I have some good areas around the basket, he says. I know what the team team needs from me. Its playing to your strengths.
West remains an admirer.
Shaun understands the game, knows his role, is a terrific ball-handler, and that quick jumper its missed in the NBA today, the Hall-of-Famer told the San Francisco Chronicles Bruce Jenkins. He doesnt overpower people, but he finesses them to where he can not only score but deliver the ball to (teammates).
Spend some time with him and you realize what kind of a kid he is. Hes just a great person, a breath of fresh air. Its amazing where he is today after all he has gone through.
Livingston doesnt wonder what kind of player he might have become without the injury, or feel unlucky because of it.
Im grateful for where I am, he says. Its always about perspective with me. This was supposed to be a part of my journey, and its bigger than myself. I hope it can help inspire others who might be in a similar situation, that you can come back from something like this.
Im a man of faith. I believe in God and a higher power that has willed me to give me the strength and the mindset to continue to conquer this. Its not over. It keeps going every day.
The Warriors hold a team option with Livingston for next season at a bargain $5.8-million price. It seems assured hell be back with the team for a third year, his longest stint anywhere since his first three seasons in the league with the Clippers. Finally, it seems, he has found a home.
This is a place where I feel comfortable, and I think (the Warriors) feel comfortable with me, he says. I understand its a business. Anything can happen. I played for eight teams before I got here. I know how it works. But it really does feel good to settle in and have a comfort zone in a place like the Bay Area.
Its a best-case scenario, for sure.