NEW YORK: Sure, Shaun Livingston has regrets. But not over that. Not over the knee injury that has horrified hundreds of thousands of viewers on YouTube, who cringe while listening to Livingston as he lay crumpled on the court shrieking in pain.
He doesn’t play the “what-if” game. What if he waited a half-second longer to jump, how would life be different if his knee didn’t buckle and explode during a routine lay-up nearly six years ago?
He doesn’t wonder if maybe he could’ve spent his entire career in Los Angeles and done for the Clippers what Magic Johnson did for the Lakers. Certainly he wouldn’t have had to change teams eight times now in the last five years.
“I can kill myself thinking about it, but you can’t,” Livingston said. “I would like to say with the athleticism I lost that I could possibly turn into a potential cornerstone and All-Star in this league. Who knows? I would’ve definitely pushed myself to try to get there and be that. But I’ll never know.”
And there it is. That’s the regret Livingston now carries. It’s not remorse over a flourishing career that was derailed by a gruesome knee injury, it’s the pain he feels for not doing more with what he had when he was equipped with two healthy knees.
High school to NBA
Livingston was one of the last players to bolt from high school directly to the NBA before a rule change slammed that door. As a high-schooler coming directly to the NBA, there was little pressure on him when he was first drafted. Everything was always in the future tense. One day he was going to be special. In time, he could be an elite point guard. But no one expected it right away.
In fact, Livingston concedes he didn’t think he was ready for the NBA. He had committed to Duke, but never showed up. The Clippers paid him more than $3 million his rookie season. Ready or not, that was enough to convince him to come out.
“With the opportunity that was in front of me, sometimes you have to make realistic decisions,” he said. “What was the possibility of me being any higher of a pick going to college? Those are the factors you have to weigh.”
So Livingston arrived at Clippers camp knowing he was good, but not pushing himself as hard as he should have.
Dealing with setbacks
He had all the tools to be elite, but at times he was meek and lacked confidence. At a time when he should’ve been the aggressor, he was too passive. He realizes it now, but it’s too late.
“I wish I would’ve had the mentality some of the other rookies had and really felt that they were ready to take it on by storm,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t really know anything about the NBA. There were a lot of expectations, but those were down the road.
“I wish I would’ve maybe set the bar a little higher for myself personally on what I could do right away. Now the injuries have set me back, but I think my mind-set did as well.”
The Cavaliers claimed Livingston off waivers and officially acquired him on Christmas Day in part because coach Byron Scott has been intrigued with his length for years. So were a number of other teams. He has played for Miami, Oklahoma City, Washington, Charlotte, and Milwaukee prior to this season, all of them trying to rediscover the athleticism and ball skills that made him so unique.
He went to camp with the Houston Rockets this season, but was a training camp cut and eventually returned to Washington. The Wizards released him on Dec. 23. Now he’s here.
“Packing is the worst. I hate it. Hate it,” he said. “You basically pack your closet and take it with you. And leases, that’s the roughest part. Finding a new place, having to sign a lease, trying to bribe the Realtor to get you a cheaper lease. It’s all the BS that sucks.”
Livingston is a pro at moving. It’s to the point where he can basically live out of one bag.
“You try to make it as convenient as possible in some inconvenient circumstances,” he said.
He flew home to Los Angeles after the Wizards released him, but only spent 48 hours there before hopping on a red-eye flight to meet the Cavs in — where else? — Washington for a game on Wednesday. He still hasn’t played because Scott wanted him to get a practice in first. That will come today and tomorrow, meaning he should be available for Wednesday’s game against the Sacramento Kings.
He has participated in a couple of shootarounds and pregame workouts with the Cavs, but that’s about it. Scott hasn’t seen much of him since the knee injury, so he’s anxious to see what’s left.
“Before the injury, he was so crafty with the ball,” Scott said. “I think he still is. He still has the ability to pass the ball as well as any point guard in this league because he has that length. He was able to look over the top of guys.”
Livingston clearly isn’t the player he was prior to the knee injury. He stole a pass early in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats in February 2007, went up for a lay-up and his left knee buckled upon landing. He tore three major ligaments in his knee (the ACL, MCL and PCL) and damaged his kneecap, tibia and femur.
He doesn’t get very far into conversations these days before people bring up the injury. He’s fine talking about it, but he has never seen a replay of the fall and has no interest in changing that now.
At 27, he’s one of the oldest players on the Cavs. But just like those early days, not much is expected of him. He’s the third point guard behind Kyrie Irving and Jeremy Pargo. He loves Irving’s game and loves the mentality with which he entered the league. It’s the same attitude he wishes he would’ve carried in eight years ago.
“Hopefully I’m still young enough to continue to play and try to achieve as much as I can in this league,” Livingston said. “I don’t want to use the word ‘satisfied.’ I’m definitely happy with some of my accomplishments in this league, but I still would like to accomplish more. I don’t want to say that enough is never enough, but at the same time, as a competitor, you want to push yourself to the highest levels.”
It’s a shame. Now he’s pushing harder on one bad knee than he ever did on two good ones.