Livingston Returns From Scary Fall
Four minutes. Two points. One assist. One turnover. It was easy for the stat line to get lost on Wednesday night -- what with Mike D'Antoni leading the New York Knicks to a 120-115 victory over Miami in his debut as Knicks coach, Stephon Marbury getting benched for the entire game, Michael Beasley making his NBA debut and Dwyane Wade beginning his road back from two productive but injury-plagued seasons.
But don't think for a minute that the performance was lost on Shaun Livingston. Livingston, the former Los Angeles Clippers point guard of the future and current Miami Heat point guard project, was the player behind the otherwise meaningless line; the one who many thought would never play another NBA game after having suffering arguably the most gruesome, horrific injury almost 20 months ago.
Livingston entered the game for Wade with 2 minutes, 18 seconds left in the first quarter, looking like the same, needle-thin point guard he always was -- except he no longer had his hair in cornrows, sported a bulky knee brace that perhaps outweighed him and lacked the speed and explosiveness that once defined his game. After a long wait, Livingston was noticeably rushed on the court, as he attacked Knicks rookie Danilo Gallinari with a spin move and got to the foul line. He tried the move again later in the game, and lost the ball as he made his turn.
"I was so excited, so anxious -- a little too anxious -- but it's a long season and I'm just happy to be back," Livingston said. "I've been waiting. I've been patient off the court, but when I'm on it, you want to show everybody where you are. I definitely feel I have something to prove, but I proved a lot just by getting on the court, period."
The 6-foot-7 Livingston has had to be patient for his entire career, which began with the Clippers taking him No. 4 overall in 2004. The Peoria, Ill., native was compared to Magic Johnson because of his height and Jason Kidd because of his court vision, but he could never turn the promise into production because of a series of injuries that forced him to miss 73 games his first two seasons. He was on the verge of breaking free in his third season, averaging 9.3 points and 5.1 assists in 54 games before he had an injury so graphic that ESPN had to warn viewers before showing the replay. Here it is, if you want to see a Halloween Horror Film.
On Feb. 26, 2007, Livingston tore three knee ligaments and dislocated his left knee cap while attempting a fastbreak layup against the Charlotte Bobcats. The frightening scene is difficult to watch in replays, as Livingston's leg wound up being perpendicular to the court.
As he was taken off the court in a stretcher, it didn't look like he'd walk again, much less play, since amputation was considered an option at one point. Livingston, however, didn't give up hope that he would play again. "Probably directly after the injury," Livingston said, when asked if he doubted this day would come, "but ever since then, it's been smooth sailing -- well not smooth sailing -- but I've been moving forward."
Livingston rehabbed, with a few mishaps, but was cleared to practice and play late last season. The Clippers were understandably cautious with Livingston, but they made him an unrestricted free agent last summer by declining his pick up a $5.8 million option. After flirting with Minnesota, Livingston signed with Miami, which has no trouble signing big point guards with a history of knee troubles (remember the Penny Hardaway experiment last season).
Livingston is just 23, so he hasn't given up on what he can be in this league. "I still want to keep going. I still want to push myself to be everything I want to be -- make it to all star level one day, win a championship, all those things are intact," he said. "I want to contribute. I want to play. I want to help my team win basketball games. Those are my expectations. It's going to come in due time."
"This was expected," Livingston said of his comeback. "I really pushed myself to get back and this is what I planned on doing. It's always exciting getting back. You want to do too much all at once. It's just patience, you know what I mean. Patience is the key."
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