December 28, 2010
The version of Shaun Livingston(notes) that exists in my mind is one of my favorite basketball players ever. A 6-foot-7 point guard with the height to see over the scrum, an old-soul perspective on the game that rewards his bigs for running the floor and cutters for braving the paint, impossibly long arms forever whipping passes through the tightest of windows and making life miserable for the point he's checking, all effortless ease and light, laconic smile as he weaves his way through pressure.
Of course, the Livingston of my imagination and the Livingston of brick-cold reality will likely never meet, thanks to a horrific, catastrophic 2007 knee injury to which I still don't have the stomach to link (if you're desperate for a turned gut, you can find it on YouTube). The trauma to Livingston's left ACL, PCL, MCL, lateral meniscus, patella and tibia-femoral joint put the prep-to-pro stud on the shelf for the better part of three years, robbing him of most of the igniting athleticism that made him such a tantalizing vision when he started to come into his own, back when he was a just-ripening 21-year-old averaging 11 points, six assists, four rebounds and a little over a steal per 36 minutes and starting to run the show for the Los Angeles Clippers.
After intensive rehab, short-lived stints with the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, and an impressive-enough 26-game trial run with the woebegone 2008-2009 Washington Wizards (during which he put up 13 points, six assists and three boards per 36 minutes), Livingston signed a two-year, $7 million deal to back up D.J. Augustin(notes) with the Charlotte Bobcats. Things haven't worked out quite as well as Bobcats fans hoped heading into the season, with the team struggling to a 10-19 record, Larry Brown gone, Paul Silas in and everything seemingly up in the air. If you don't scour the box score, you could miss Livingston's NBA existence entirely these days.
In some kinder, better world, a healthy 25-year-old Livingston and Blake Griffin(notes) link up for a decade of delight, allowing us all to see America's promise. On this plane, though, we'll have to settle for moments like this fast break during the Charlotte Bobcats' Tuesday night win over the Detroit Pistons. Plays like this left-handed no-look lob, finished with authority by a streaking Derrick Brown(notes), are about as close as we can get to seeing the ghost of the Livingston we hoped for become whole, flesh and blood, as beautiful as we'd dreamed. All effortless ease and light, laconic smile.
International readers ("Int'l read'rs"): If the video clip above isn't rocking for you, please feel free to peruse the oop goodness courtesy of our friends at Outside the NBA.