What NBA Fans Need to Know This Season, According to a Reigning Champion
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the worst NBA injury ever couldn’t keep Shaun down.
By Matt Foley
Shaun Livingston, fourth overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft and the king of Peoria, Illinois, was supposed to be a chosen one, and for a few years, he was. After turning down a full ride to Duke, Livingston jumped from Peoria Central to the Los Angeles Clippers. His height (6-foot-7), wingspan (6-foot-11) and elite creativity made him one of the most unique young point guards ever.
Then, in a 2007 game against Charlotte, Livingston tore his knee to shreds — an injury so severe that amputation was initially discussed as an option. But after months of rehabilitation, Livingston began his comeback. The next three years were spent playing in the G-League and bouncing around the NBA on 10-day contracts, hoping for enough playing time to prove to himself that it wasn’t time to quit. Now, seven years after signing a two-year contract with Charlotte, Livingston is a two-time NBA champ and the leader of Golden State’s acclaimed second unit.
He sat down with OZY to dish on everything from future NBA stars and agencies to rebuilding his confidence and planning for the future.
Who are the best NBA executives most fans don’t know?
Shaun Livingston: Nick U’Ren in Golden State is a name to watch — we call him “Boy Wonder.” When we won our first championship, it was his idea to put Andre Iguodala, who won Finals MVP, in the starting lineup. Once we did that, we just took off.
Another guy is Gersson Rosas [EVP of basketball operations] in Houston. He had a chance to take the Dallas Mavericks GM job, but he turned it down. His background is very unorthodox — coming from Colombia, he worked his way up the ranks because he’s able to bridge the gap between the front office and players. He’s a connector. Now, with Chris Paul in Houston, he’ll be pulling strings behind the scenes.
I had reached a point where I was either going to eventually fall off, or take the next step.
Which young players could become All-Stars?
Livingston: I like the rookie Dennis Smith in Dallas. He’s going to be a stud. Coming into the league in 2003, in the same draft class as Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, nobody expected Dwyane Wade to become a Hall of Famer. But his true talent … is revealed when the game tips off. He shines in the biggest moments. I think Smith has that same edge.
This may be a biased opinion, but another guy who I think will be an All-Star one day is Patrick McCaw. He made the All-Rookie team last year playing for us in Golden State. A lot of people learned about him in the finals last year when coach [Steve] Kerr trusted him to make an impact. He has a really unique game — kind of a hybrid style of myself and Andre Iguodala.
How much influence do agents have today?
Livingston: My agent, Jeff Schwartz [of Excel Sports Management], is one of the dominant forces in sports. The big agencies rule with an iron fist. They wield tons of leverage because teams know that to sign the biggest stars, they have to work with these agents and show their lower-tier clients some love too. So, mid-level guys like myself might be more likely to get a shot working with a big agency because of their clout. But some boutique agencies do a great job too. LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul, is getting a lot of guys because of the leverage he has with LeBron.
When did you know you were going to return to the NBA?
Livingston: It was all about baby steps. In 2010, I had my first chance to get back in the league with the Washington Wizards. That was the first I felt comfortable.… Seeing some results and growth pushed me even further.
How do you continue to evolve and stay in the league?
Livingston: Once I’d been back in the league for about four years, I kind of plateaued. It was 2013, before I went to play in Brooklyn, I had reached a point where I was either going to eventually fall off, or take the next step.
I had a chance to train with a guy named Manning Sumner at Legacy Fit in Miami. I still train there today. It was the hardest work I’ve ever put in — harder than returning from rehab. There were days where I was throwing up and there’s a guy yelling in my face, but I had to keep pushing to the extreme. Athletes who have reached their full potential know that feeling.… That’s the type of preparation that builds confidence. When I went on the court after that, I already knew I could be better than ever before. Now I’ve reached a place where I’m more explosive … and I finally trust my body.
What’s next for you?
Livingston: There are still things I want to accomplish as an individual and as a team. Sure, we’ve won two championships, but can we get three? It’s so difficult to build a championship team and actually win a title, you have to seize the moment whenever possible. This is an incredible opportunity.