PHILADELPHIA—We are standing in front of Shaun Livingston’s locker Saturday night, discussing the taut and tense movie, ‘Captain Phillips,’ which the Brooklyn Nets saw an advanced screening of during training camp.
Livingston and I agree on the amazing acting performance of Tom Hanks when this question arises:
Why, we wonder [Spoiler Alert!] does Phillips return to sea after his grueling ordeal at the hands of Somali pirates? Livingston acknowledges that he would never again set foot in a boat.
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“But you do what you love, right?’’
No one has earned the right to utter that line more than Livingston.
Livingston was in the 145th game of his fledgling NBA career when he suffered a left knee injury so devastating that ESPN issued a warning to viewers that the replay of the injury was graphic. Doctors briefly thought an amputation might be needed.
The first time I saw it, I puked. I’ve torn my ACL three times and that was a knee scrape compared to horrendous damage Livingston’s left knee suffered.
Forgot playing again. There were real concerns about Livingston ever walking again.
The doctors, however, hadn’t yet checked with Livingston.
“Oh, I was coming back,’’ he said.
Livingston is back, back and living a dream that once seemed so easily attainable. He turned in a flawless performance tonight in the Nets 127-97 preseason win over the 76ers in Philadelphia scoring 17 points on 7-of-7 shooting with nine rebounds, eight assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
Livingston was the fourth pick in the 2004 draft, making the jump right from high school to the NBA.
He was a freak, a 6-7 point guard that saw the court with uncanny clarity. He was a superstar in the making.
And then came the injury that still makes grown men blanch.
“I’m a big fan of Shaun’s,’’ said Nets coach Jason Kidd. “He could have stopped playing the game of basketball but it just shows his love and his dedication and his work ethic to get back to the level that he’s at.’’
After bouncing around the NBA and its D-League, Livingston signed a one-year deal in July to be Deron Williams backup.
It might turn out to be the most important free agent signing GM Billy King made in putting together this roster.
Williams has yet to play in the preseason and training camp as the Nets take a cautious approach to the healing of his sprained and bruised right ankle, which he suffered in a summer workout.
Tyshawn Taylor did not practice Sunday after spraining his right ankle in the first half of the Saturday night’s preseason game against Detroit.
That leaves Livingston as the lone healthy point guard with a guaranteed contract. He has made 20 assists, committed just five turnovers and his fan club is growing by the day.
“What I think he does not get enough credit for is the way he leads,’’ said power forward Kevin Garnett. “Obviously you guys are not there in practice to see his work ethic.’’
“His vision of the floor is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.’’
Seeing Livingston back on the court playing at a high level is one of the feel-good stories in NBA history, no exaggeration.
His career should have been over that night Feb. 26 night in 2007. Yet here he is, certain he may never again be 100 percent but it will take a wooden dagger in the heart before he’s Shaun of the NBA dead.
He said he wants to write a book about his injury and rehab. If it helps one young player trying to recover from a serious injury, it will be worth it to Livingston.
“I feel very lucky to be here and I just want to make the most of it,’’ said Livingston. “This team has a chance to win a title, which is why you play the game.’’
“I know nothing is guaranteed. But if we all do our jobs, we can be part of something special.’’
You get the sense Nets players feel that way every time they step on a court with Livingston.
Athletes do not fear the guy in the other jersey, they fear the unforeseen, the injury that strikes without warning.
Livingston is just 28, looks five years younger and acts five years older. He’s seen more than any player should see in a career.
“He’s been hit with injuries that set him back a little but he’s young and he wants it, man,’’ said Garnett. “He’s a very, very hard worker somebody that I have a lot of respect for and I have a lot of respect for his work ethic.
“He’s very dependable, which is not an easy thing to attain in this league. He studies the game. He’s just an old soul and old school kind of guy.’’
He’s the guy – the one the doctors had to put all the pieces together – who is now pulling together a roster of new players and a new coaching staff.
Livingston’s chance to be a big-time factor in this league might have been derailed but it’s back on track. And it’s because of his sheer will and determination.
No one can ever say Shaun Livingston was given his NBA career. When the basketball gods tried to take it, he took it back.
“He can start, he can come off the bench,’’ said Kidd. “He makes things extremely easy for his teammates and I think you can see that.’’