Shaun Livingston’s Miraculous Return to the Court
Number 34 for the Golden State Warriors has just checked into the game.
Number 34 for the Golden State Warriors has just checked into the game. He’s skinny, lanky, and does not seem too athletic. As soon as he enters, he leaps for the board, dribbles down the court, and gets to the right post. With a couple of dribbles, he backs down the smaller guard. He turns over his right shoulder, takes a dribble, then turns over his left for a fadeaway bucket. Though he may look average, Shaun Livingston certainly is far from that, and his career has been a long journey defined by patience, resilience, and great character.
Coming straight out of high school as the fourth overall pick for the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2004 National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft, Livingston was seen as a promising player. At 6’8”, Livingston’s tall size for the guard position allowed him to find open teammates and finish strong at the basket, skills the Clippers believed to be the making of a star. Despite minor leg injuries that limited his minutes in his first two seasons, Livingston took a leap forward in his third year.
In the 2006-07 season, Livingston’s improved efficiency earned himself more starts for the Clippers. However, on a seemingly routine fastbreak, Livingston suffered the most devastating injury in NBA history. After landing awkwardly after a layup, his left leg snapped laterally, dislocating his left knee and tearing three ligaments in the process. Doctors doubted his ability to walk again and even considered an amputation after preliminary examinations of the injury. His career seemed to be over in a flash, but Livingston was determined to return.
After months of physical rehabilitation and missing the entire 2007-08 NBA season, he signed with the Miami Heat to a two-year deal. Despite his mere presence on an NBA court being a success in its own right, the damage was apparent. Livingston wasn’t the promising player he was once projected to be, and so he bounced around the league, getting traded to different teams and subsequently waived not long after. In the five seasons after his return, he played for seven NBA teams, even making a brief appearance in the NBA Development (G) League. Surely, Livingston would spend the rest of his career as an NBA journeyman.
However, Livingston remained patient. In the 2013-14 season, Livingston played a career-high of 76 games with 54 starts with the Brooklyn Nets and even made his first playoff appearance since his sophomore season. After impressing with Brooklyn, Livingston earned himself a three year, $16 million contract with the Warriors in the 2014 offseason. From getting cut on ten-day contracts and playing in the G League, Livingston finally found a home with the Warriors. He was a key piece in helping the Warriors reach five consecutive NBA finals from 2015-19 and winning three NBA Championships in 2015, 2017, and 2018. Through patience and resilience, Livingston found his way from the bottom of the league to become an NBA champion.
However, there was more to Livingston’s greatness than just his resilience. While he wouldn’t be given a starting role on the Warriors, he understood how he could contribute. Instead of trying to become the star of the team, which the Warriors already had, Livingston recognized that he did not have the athleticism he once had and decided that he would adapt his game to suit his role on the team. With the Warriors needing a versatile guard who could provide key points off the bench, he mastered the niche mid-range game. In an era where his own team was known as a pioneer of volume three point shooting, Livingston went the opposite direction to add scoring versatility to the team. With his back to the basket, Livingston could either use his size to bully smaller point guards or effortlessly turn over his shoulder for a mid-range jumper. He quickly became wildly efficient; in every year with the Warriors, he boasted a field goal percentage of over 50 percent. It’s not hard to understand why he became such an integral part of the Warrior’s dynasty. His mastery of the turnaround jumper was a matchup nightmare against smaller guards, and he became a dual-threat playmaker with Stephen Curry, finding open teammates on a regular basis and providing reliable buckets when needed. Livingston’s success with the Warriors was defined by his ability to adapt and see the bigger picture, making the necessary sacrifices for the betterment of the team.
Livingston also proved to be a great leader for the multiple championship-winning rosters of the Warriors. When the Warriors signed him, they were in need of veteran leadership for their up and coming stars, and Livingston provided just that. He led through example, and his teammates shared that sentiment. About Livingston, teammate Curry stated, “I’m sure [Livingston’s] story speaks volumes to guys that are trying to find their way in the league, to know that if you’re patient and just grind, hopefully it’ll work out.”
Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr also added, “Every team needs a mentoring system, and it has to be organic. [Livingston], he’s been fantastic both on and off the court for us.”
Livingston retired in September 2019, finishing his career as a Warrior, both literally and metaphorically. He kept his head up high throughout his career, he did not let the physical pain of his injury or psychological turbulence of years of mediocrity get in his way, and rather than falling in the pits of frustration, he took his future in his own hands and adapted his game while also accepting that certain compromises had to be made. On paper, Livingston is an injury-riddled player who found a way to be one of the most efficient players in his latter years. Yet Livingston’s story isn’t just a story of basketball; rather it’s the story of overcoming hardship through perseverance and humility.