On this day ten years ago, Shaun Livingston suffered one of the most horrific injuries ever seen in an NBA game. In fact, his knee was so badly damaged that doctors were, at one stage, contemplating the prospect of amputating his left leg. Eight years later, Livingston became just the sixth player drafted by the Clippers to win an NBA championship.
By Mick Minas
When Livingston’s left leg buckled underneath him in the first quarter of a game against the Charlotte Bobcats, it was immediately apparent that his knee had sustained a serious injury. As Livingston was rushed to Centinela Hospital he tried to remain calm, reminding himself that he had already successfully recovered from a knee injury during his rookie season, just two years earlier. He knew that he was facing months of rehabilitation but he also drew strength from his previous experience, telling himself that this was something he could manage.
When he arrived at the hospital, Livingston soon discovered that his latest injury was much worse than he had first imagined. Doctors told him they needed to take blood tests in order to determine whether the artery in the back of his leg had been damaged. A shocked Livingston was informed that if the artery was in fact torn, there was a risk he could get gangrene, meaning that his left leg might need to be amputated.
Any thought of making a speedy recovery suddenly vanished, as Livingston was left to ponder whether he would retain all of his limbs, much less resume his basketball career.
It turned out that amputation was not necessary but reading a list of what had been damaged gave a pretty good indication of just how serious the situation was. On top of his knee being dislocated in two different places (the knee cap and a posterior lateral dislocation), Livingston had torn his anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament. He underwent immediate surgery and was informed that it would take several months of rehabilitation before he would be able to walk again. Livingston was just 21 years of age at the time.
A year and a half later, Shaun Livingston was ready to resume his basketball career. Given the extent of his injuries, this fact alone was a minor miracle. The Clippers could have retained Livingston by extending his rookie contract, however, it would cost them $5.8 million to do so. The Clippers passed on this option and instead offered him a less lucrative two year deal, with just one season guaranteed. Livingston decided that a fresh start with a new team was his preference and so he signed with Miami. His stay in South Beach lasted all of four games and for the next five years Livingston proceeded to bounce around the league. He made stops in Tulsa (where he played 11 games for the Tulsa 66ers- the Thunders’ D-league affiliate), Oklahoma City, Washington, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Washington (again) and Cleveland.
Livingston’s big break came halfway through the 2013-14 season. At the time, he was playing for Brooklyn, a team that entered the season with hopes of competing for the NBA championship. Instead, they found themselves floundering, with just 10 wins from their first 30 games. After another blowout defeat, this time at the hands of San Antonio, Nets’ coach Jason Kidd decided to promote Livingston to the starting line-up, where he replaced Mirza Teletovic, thus allowing Paul Pierce to slide over to the power forward position. It was a move that paid immediate dividends. The Nets won 10 of their next 11 games and Livingston remained a permanent fixture in the Nets’ starting five for the rest of the season.
Brooklyn eventually finished with the Eastern Conference’s fourth best record and defeated Toronto in the first round of the playoffs, with Livingston hitting two crucial free throws in the final seconds of Game 7 to help seal the 104-103 victory. In the second round the Nets played the star-studded Miami Heat and it was during this series that Livingston played his best basketball of the season. He averaged 11.4 points, 3.6 assists and 3 rebounds per game and also did a good job of defending both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. And while the Nets were eventually eliminated in five games, Livingston’s impressive play demonstrated to the rest of the league that he was more than capable of playing major minutes for a championship-contending team.
During the 2014 off-season, Livingston signed a three year, $16 million deal with Golden State, who were looking to upgrade their roster after they were eliminated from the first round of the playoffs by the Clippers. Throughout the 2014-15 season, Livingston played an important role for the Warriors and by the time the playoffs began, he had established himself as a key contributor on one of the best bench units in the league. In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors found themselves trailing the Houston Rockets by 16 points, midway through the second quarter. Livingston scored 14 points in the period, fueling a 25-6 Golden State run. By the main break, the Warriors had taken a three point lead and they were eventually able to hold on for a 110-106 win, with Livingston contributing 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists.
Livingston’s next double figure scoring effort came in Game 6 of NBA Finals, as Golden State captured their first NBA title in 40 years. After the game, an emotional Livingston reflected on the long and often painful road that he had travelled over the past eight years. “Everybody knows my journey,” Livingston said. “People count you out, no belief, going through the D‑League, trying to make it on ten‑day contracts, being out the NBA. Now to be here as a world champion with my brothers, man…you can't put that in words.”
Author’s Note: Of the six Clippers draft picks who won an NBA championship during their playing careers, three never played a single game for the franchise. Byron Scott, who won three rings, was selected by the San Diego Clippers with the fourth overall pick of the 1983 draft but was traded to the Lakers just a couple of months later. Danny Ferry, who won a championship with San Antonio in his final NBA season, was taken with the second selection of the 1989 draft but opted to play in Italy rather than sign with the Clippers. Finally, Tyson Chandler was selected by the Clippers with the second overall pick of the 2001 draft and then traded to the Chicago Bulls on the same day. Chandler won a championship in his first season with the Mavericks in 2011. The championship-winning Clipper draft picks who actually played for the franchise were Craig Hodges (a third round pick from the 1982 draft who won two rings with the Bulls), Lamar Odom (the fourth overall selection in the 1999 draft and winner of two championships with the Lakers and Shaun Livingston.
You can read more about Shaun Livingston in "THE CURSE: The Colorful & Chaotic History of the LA Clippers" by visiting Amazon or clicking here.
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