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Column: Why Shaun Livingston’s NBA career mattered

Warriors guard Shaun Livingston drives past Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton during a game on Dec. 5, 2018.
Warriors guard Shaun Livingston, driving past Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton in 2018, overcame a gruesome knee injury early in his career.
(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)

The numbers say we shouldn’t care all that much about Shaun Livingston. But the numbers aren’t a complete representation of the truth. Basketball isn’t just points — it has soul, it reveals character and requires sacrifice and perseverance.

Those are the reasons we, the basketball community, care that Livingston announced his NBA career has ended. Those are the reasons his exit has inspired articles and blog posts from all over the country.

People care because the worst day of Livingston’s pro basketball life — when his leg was so badly injured that doctors feared amputation — was so awful. And it’s because the best days of Livingston’s were so wonderful, the ones where he held up NBA championship trophies.

In a time where no one can seemingly agree upon anything, everyone in and around the NBA is happy that Livingston’s story got to end this way.

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Friday, without a team as training camps open at the end of the month, Livingston wrote on Instagram that he was retiring.

“After 15 years in the NBA, I’m excited, sad, fortunate and grateful all in one breath,” he wrote in an emotional post.

Livingston ends his career with 5,231 points in 833 regular-season games. Since 1946, only nine players in the NBA appeared in more games and saw the ball go through the hoop less — a list filled with shot-blocking and rebound-grabbing big men.

He wasn’t that — no, he came into the league with a real chance of being the Clippers’ version of Magic Johnson. A high school All-American, the Clippers used the No. 4 pick in the 2004 draft to select the 6-foot-7 point guard directly from high school.

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He was a developmental project and during parts of his first three seasons with the Clippers, Livingston flashed enough talent to be considered a foundation of the organization’s future.

But those hopes all ended on Feb. 26, 2007 when Livingston landed horribly on his left leg, his knee completely buckling with the major tendons in his knee stretching, tearing and rupturing on impact.

Re-acquired Lakers center Dwight Howard says he wants to be judged by his actions, not his words, while trying to help the team win a championship.

The on-court microphones rattled with the sounds of his pain, the four-letter words of his teammates who saw his kneecap pushed all the way to the side and the panicked call for someone to get the “paramedics.”

“Pure pain,” he told The Times that summer. “Sharp pain in my knee. Like a knife. Pain so bad it’s hard to even describe.”

Thankfully the arteries that run through his leg were spared. Amputation wasn’t necessary. Patience — and tons of rehab (with the Lakers’ Judy Seto) — were.

Livingston lost all of the next season, and in a quick stop in Miami, he played only four times. From there, it was off to Oklahoma City for a blink. And then to Washington. Then Charlotte. And Milwaukee. And back to Washington. And then Cleveland. And then Brooklyn — eight teams in six seasons.

But by the end, he proved he could stay healthy, that he could play, that he could contribute. The Warriors signed Livingston to a free-agent deal and he became a critical part of Golden State’s dynasty, winning three NBA championships.

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During that run, it felt like Livingston never missed a turnaround jumper in the post when he was on the floor. He was someone you sought out in the Warriors’ locker room, a voice of authority and authenticity. Even as his production dipped, his demeanor never did.

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“What an amazing combination of talent, grace, & character,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr tweeted after Livingston’s announcement.

He might’ve had options if he decided to keep playing. The Clippers made an inquiry this offseason before deciding to go in different directions.

But maybe the time was just right, Livingston’s comeback complete, his legacy as a winner and a champion intact.

“I’m just grateful,” he said after he won his first NBA title.

As he walks away from basketball — no small miracle considering what he went through — everyone is saying it back to him.


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