Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Optimism for Shaun Livingston

Back-up point guards for the Los Angeles Clippers don’t really get a lot of ink here, and maybe rightfully so. But Shaun Livingston’s story is one that deserves some attention. In a fantastic July 29 article in the Los Angeles Times, Livingston gave author Kurt Streeter a first-hand account of what the past five months have held for him, along with a look to the future. I’m very happy to report that there seems to be some real optimism emerging in a situation that could have ended tragically. For those of you that don’t know what happened, even if you don’t know who Shaun Livingston is, here’s his story.

During a home game against the Charlotte Bobcats on February 26, he suffered one of the most gruesome injuries in NBA history, which Livingston himself described as “Pure pain. Pain so bad it’s hard to even describe”. Following a steal, he was on his way downcourt for a breakaway lay-up, he took off, no one with ten feet of him, just after releasing the ball, his feet hit the floor, and then, disaster! As he landed, what happened to Shaun Livingston’s left knee can best be described as an “explosion”, not only tearing his ACL, MCL and PCL, but dislocated his kneecap as well. Watching the talented 20 year-old fall to the Staples Center floor in a heap is one the most stomach-turning NBA moment I’ve ever witnessed.

At the hospital, Livingston’s knee was scanned for nerve and artery damage (of which, fortunately, there was none) and he was told that there was chance that part of his left leg would have to be amputated. His doctors told him that his was one of the worst knee injuries they'd seen, more similar to something stemming from a major car wreck. It was bad enough that the first two years of his career had been plagued by back and knee injuries, but this was getting scary. Apparently this wasn’t just a basketball injury. If you haven’t stopped reading already, you’re probably wondering why (other than compassion and sympathy for a suffering young man) I’m devoting so much energy to an article about a guy who’s averaged 7.4 points and 4.8 assists in his 145 game NBA career. Well…

Shaun Livingston is special. Straight out of high school in Peoria, IL, Livingston, the #4 overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, is a truly once-a-decade talent at the point. At his best Livingston is a mix of Scottie Pippen and Steve Nash, seeming to float when he runs the floor and making passes that very few players in NBA history have been able to make. He's a constant threat to make the kind of play that leaves you with your mouth open, bursting into spontaneous laughter. Most NBA fans have no idea what they’re at risk of losing because playing in the Pacific Time Zone has made Livingston fandom something of a regional phenomenon. Even those of us who have regularly watched Livingston play have only a vague idea of just how good this kid can be, because we've still only seen flashes of Livingston's brilliance.

But the flashes, along with his kind, polite and thoughtful personality, are enough to make you believe that this rail-thin, 6-foot-7 point guard will be a big part of the NBA’s future. And just as he was learning how to adapt his incredible talent to the NBA game, he suffered this devastating, career-threatening injury. It’s as though the sports gods have decided to have some laughs at his expense.

Thankfully, as reported by Streeter, thing are looking up for Shaun Livingston. Following a successful operation, performed by Dr. James Andrews, he’s now able to walk without a limp, to ride a stationary bike and lunge from side to side. Although he’s not sprinting or jumping yet, Livingston’s doctor says that his comeback chances good. But that’s only part of the good news.

In addition to his encouraging physical prognosis, Shaun Livingston’s financial outlook is encouraging. Needless to say, any kid that is guaranteed $12.5 million before the age of 21 is at risk of peaking too soon and flaming out (see Lohan, Lindsay and Spears, Britney). Fortunately, it seems that Livingston is the rare young athlete whose finances are closely and smartly managed, with real estates investments in Chicago and the possibility of dabbling in the entertainment industry.

Having met Livingston, hearing first-hand accounts of how good a guy he is and having seen flashes of his game at its best, I took his injury (which sent shivers up my spine when I saw it live and will forever be etched into my brain) pretty hard, and I am extremely happy to hear that Shaun’s life, as well as his left knee, have plenty of cause for optimism.

Rather than focus on the negative aspects of his injury he says he wants to focus on taking his game “to new heights.” I can’t wait.

Good luck, Shaun!

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