Shaun Livingston drove through the right lane, spun to his left and threw down a reverse dunk.
It was February 2014, and Livingston — then the Brooklyn Nets’ part-time starter at point guard — was seven years removed from one of the most gruesome knee injuries in professional sports history. Jason Kidd, head coach of the Nets at the time, recently recalled thinking in that moment, “What if Shaun had never gotten hurt? Could he have been one of the greatest of all time?”
There were days, early in his recovery process, when such hypotheticals tormented Livingston. But eight teams, nearly 800 games and three NBA titles later, Livingston prefers to focus on the positive. In bucking the odds to find his niche as an essential role player for the Warriors, he came to embody the principles of perseverance, professionalism and adaptability.In little more than a week, Livingston will begin what figures to be his final playoffs. Only $2 million of the $7.7 million stipulated in his contract next season is guaranteed. The Warriors, already deep into the luxury tax, are unlikely to absorb that $5.7 million hit for a 33-year-old guard with nagging knee pain.
Livingston isn’t necessarily interested in signing a one-year deal with another team. Oakland, where he bought his first house in the summer of 2016, has come to feel like home. It’s where he married his wife, Joanna, and is raising their daughters, 2-year-old Tyler and 1-month-old Jonah.
“I feel like the grandpa that has the family and is trying to see his kids grow up,” Livingston said recently. “I’m not that fricking old, but it’s more just like, I’ve been able to accomplish some pretty cool things. I reached my goal, as far as making it back into the league and obviously being a part of a championship team. I was super fortunate.”Long a perfectionist, Livingston has been disappointed by his production this season. His achy left knee — the lingering reminder of an injury so severe that doctors briefly considered amputating his leg — is a big reason he has missed 16 games. Although he is shooting 51.2 percent from the field, Livingston’s points (4.1) and assists (1.8) per game are down from last season (5.5 and 2.0).
For Livingston to log 15.3 minutes per game, he requires help from the Warriors’ training staff. Livingston’s pregame routine involves a rotation of ice and a heat pad on his left knee, leg stretches and muscle-building exercises.Still, he often finds his knee swelling at halftime. The dull pain, off and on for 12 years, began to worsen noticeably last season.
“The handwriting was on the wall,” Livingston said. “I’m not going to feel like I’m 21 again when I’m 33. Over the last couple of years, it’s started to feel like the clock is ticking. As far as feeling like I’m at my peak, I don’t have those days as much.”
Added Warriors head coach Steve Kerr: “Sometimes I look at Shaun, and I just chuckle and go, ‘You think it hurts now? Wait about 20 years.’”
Livingston called this stage of his career “house money.” Because for more than a half-decade after he tore three of the four ligaments in his left knee on a layup attempt in February 2007, he questioned whether he’d stick in the NBA.
After missing the 2007-08 season to relearn how to walk, Livingston became a basketball nomad, ping-ponging through eight teams in six years. His stops included a two-year contract with the Heat that lasted three months and a total of 41 minutes on the court; a three-week post with Oklahoma City’s NBA Development League (now G League) affiliate in Tulsa; and two 10-day contracts with Washington.
Livingston’s breakthrough came in July 2013 when, after averaging 7.2 points and 3.6 assists in 49 games with Cleveland, he signed a one-year, veteran-minimum deal with the Nets. Kidd, mere months removed from playing his final NBA game, saw Livingston as the ideal backup for Deron Williams.
On a team boasting Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Paul Pierce and a well-past-his-prime Kevin Garnett, Livingston got a much-needed opportunity to boost his market value in nationally televised games. Kidd so prized Livingston’s basketball IQ, crafty offense and stabilizing presence that he moved Livingston into the starting lineup alongside Williams midway through the season — a move that stuck through the playoffs.The following July, when Livingston signed a three-year deal with the Warriors, he became the 33rd player in NBA history to appear on the rosters of at least nine teams. To this day, he believes that he might not have found his footing in the league if not for Kidd taking a chance on him.