OAKLAND, Calif. — Shaun Livingston‘s left leg could have been amputated nine years ago.
The knee injury he suffered while with the Clippers in 2007 was that severe. Going for a layup, Livingston’s leg buckled backward, parallel to the court, when he fell in a freak accident. He screamed and writhed in agony.
Now, healthy and reliable, Livingston is making a new name for himself on the NBA’s postseason stage. He has filled in admirably for the NBA’s best player as Golden State moves on to the second round of the playoffs without injured MVP Stephen Curry.
Livingston scored 16 points in each of his three starts in place of Curry during Golden State’s 4-1 first-round series win against the Houston Rockets.
“I think when you go through traumatic events like that, you understand,” Livingston said. “Now, being in this position and playing with guys like Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, Draymond (Green), All-Stars, being on this team, there was a time I was getting waived off teams that weren’t winning 20 games.”
Journeyman for this guy is practically an understatement. Just 30, the Warriors are already his ninth NBA team. Livingston has played in the most games of his career the past two seasons, 78 each, and emerged as a trustworthy backup to Curry when he comes off the bench with high energy and an aggressive style.
That night of Feb. 26, 2007, still fuels him. Livingston overcame long medical odds just to get back on the court, and for that he is so grateful each time he laces up his shoes for practice or game day.
Livingston tore three major ligaments in his knee – the anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and medial collateral – as well as his lateral meniscus, then required extensive surgery performed by renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama.
Livingston also dislocated his knee cap and tibiofemoral joint. Though the injury could have potentially ended his career at age 21, he still believed he would play again. First he had to walk again.
After all that, the Warriors love watching him contribute in such a meaningful way as they chase a second straight championship.
“He’s been huge. Not just this series, all year,” Green said after Golden State eliminated Houston on Wednesday night, 114-81. “But really stepping in for Steph, and it’s different. It’s not the same thing that you’re used to, which is so unique about it. But he’s been incredible for us, always steady, somebody we know we can go to if we need a basket, and taking care of the ball and really running the offense.”
Livingston’s remarkable comeback inspired coach Steve Kerr this season when he was coping with his own trying ordeal, a long leave of absence following complications from two back surgeries.
“I admire Shaun Livingston. Shaun had probably the worst knee injury that I’ve ever seen, that anybody’s ever seen in NBA history, almost had his leg amputated,” Kerr said this week after being named Coach of the Year. “Think about what it took for Shaun to get back to the point where he is now, several years of rehabilitation. That inspires me, my players inspire me. … People may forget, but if it weren’t for the knee injury, Shaun was headed for a superstar career.”
Livingston, drafted fourth overall by the Clippers in 2004 out of Peoria Central High in Illinois, was hit with plenty of injury hard luck well before the frightening knee blowout and had yet to even play a full NBA season because of injuries.
“Going through those experiences, it’s humbling, and never getting too high or too low,” Livingston said. “Just respecting the process, keeping your head down and keep grinding.”
He has vowed to be aggressive and make things happen at every chance to keep Golden State’s record-setting season going. The Warriors had an NBA-best 24-0 start on the way to a 73-9 record that topped the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ previous-best finish of 72-10.
Kerr was on that team. The encouraging words from the coach mean so much to Livingston.
“He’s played and won championships as a player, and he’s been around,” Livingston said. “He’s played with the greatest and been coached by the greatest. So to hear those words, it’s very humbling. I’m grateful. I take it in stride, and I just try to let it fuel me.”
At 6-foot-7, Livingston is a tough matchup because of his length and athletic ability.
His teammates don’t want him to change a thing.
“He’s been phenomenal, so we’re going to need him to continue to be that way,” Green said. “We’re not sure how long Steph will be out, but until then Shaun will be holding it down for us. So he’s been big, and we look forward to him continuing to do that.”