In unsurprising news, Jonathan Abrams is a much better writer than I could ever aspire to be.
When I wrote my treatise to Shaun Livingston in December, I never expected that Jonathan Abrams would write one of his famous long-form Grantland pieces on him. But Abrams did exactly that, and his story was released today.
In his piece, Abrams chronicles Livingston's road back to the NBA after the most gruesome and debilitating knee injury I've ever seen. I'll warn you before reading it: it's honestly one of the hardest pieces of journalism that I've ever read. But as with most Abrams' pieces, it's absolutely incredible.
At one point in the first quarter, Livingston scooped a loose ball off Cuttino Mobley's deflection and sprinted toward the basket. His long gait carried him there in eight strides. But his momentum took him farther than he wanted and his left foot planted awkwardly. The force of the landing sent his knee in different directions. It looked like someone had thrown a deck of cards into the air.
Livingston screamed in agony. Play continued and the rest of the Clippers transitioned back on defense. Livingston had felt this type of blinding pain before, when he dislocated his right kneecap and missed the bulk of his rookie season. Play stopped and an eerie silence loomed over Staples Center. Brand wasn't close enough to see the injury, but figured it was serious when he heard the crowd. Cassell, who had a better view, thought Livingston's promising career had just ended. Dunleavy, from the Clippers bench, immediately knew it was one of the worst basketball injuries he had ever witnessed.
My reaction was pretty similar the first time I saw it. I've only watched it twice in my life: once when it first happened, and once on a dare from friends. Twice is two more times than I ever needed to see something like that.
Livingston progressed over the course of two years from being unable to walk to being able to train and workout. After the Clippers didn't tender him a qualifying offer in 2008, he signed with the Heat in hopes of getting his NBA career back on track.
Livingston resurfaced with the Miami Heat at the start of the 2008-09 season. He still remembers the silent nods he received from the bench of the San Antonio Spurs as he checked into his first preseason game. The hours, days, and months relearning how to walk, run, and jump had paid off. But to what extent? "Regardless of what anyone says, I know how hard I worked," Livingston said. "I know where I was, how far away I was. I know now because I am back playing, but I was nowhere near being ready."
This has to be one of the best parts of Abrams' story. Receiving silent nods from the Tim Duncan-led Spurs in 2008, who were only one year removed from a title, had to have been such a bone-chilling moment in his life. A simple nod and stare from that bench had to be the best acknowledgment of his accomplishment that he could have received.
Then Abrams finally got to the Cavalier aspect of his piece, which produced an interesting statement that, as both a Livingston fan and a Cavalier fan, kind of upset me.
Charlotte traded Livingston to Milwaukee in a three-team deal involving Stephen Jackson that allowed Charlotte to obtain Bismack Biyombo and Corey Maggette. Then Milwaukee traded him to Houston this summer in a deal aimed at landing Samuel Dalembert. The Rockets waived Livingston and he rejoined the Wizards. Washington waived him in December and he joined the Cavaliers. He has crisscrossed the NBA. There appears to always be a place for Livingston, a coach who is tantalized with the thought of unleashing a 6-foot-7 point guard. Though he's played well in Cleveland backing up Kyrie Irving, Shaun Livingston is still in search of a permanent NBA home...
Livingston describes his current role in the NBA as "still a journeyman trying to really find a team that fits."
As someone who really hopes that Livingston stays past this season, the fact that he thinks he hasn't found a home yet is pretty disconcerting. Livingston has been one of the bench pieces that has sparkled since the new year has begun, along with new acquisitions Wayne Ellington and Marreese Speights. He has helped to settle down an offense that was abysmal at best and catastrophic at worst when Kyrie Irving sat on the bench. It's pretty clear to me that Livingston is an NBA backup point guard. I just hope that he continues to ply his trade for the Cavaliers past this season as an inexpensive role player.