Shaun Livingston had an iconic career.
Livingston fended off the end of his career until he couldn’t.
Midway through the final playoff run of his fascinating 14-year career, I walked up to Shaun Livingston and asked if he had a minute. He vaguely remembered me from the previous year’s Finals, when I stood by his Oracle Arena locker (before and after more than one game) to pepper him with questions for a trivial story I wrote about his non-existent three-point shot.
He nodded. “What up?” We shook hands, then flopped onto soft courtside seats as he leaned over to untie his sneakers. The Warriors were up, 2-1, in their second-round series against the Houston Rockets and had just finished up a morning shootaround. Toyota Center was painted on the court in large red block letters a few feet away. Livingston hadn’t been playing well — most, if not all, of his numbers were a career low — which was what I wanted to talk about. He smiled. “I’m just another year older. That’s it.”
We chatted for a few more minutes about how he was coping with the frustration of knowing plays, understanding where to be, grasping what it takes to win, then realizing one day very soon none of it will matter. Maybe that day had already come. Livingston, who announced his retirement Friday, eased his way through an ostensibly difficult conversation. For someone who was confronted by so much physical pain playing the game he loves, who went on to achieve more than anyone expected and suited up for nearly a third of the league’s teams before settling into the role that he will ultimately be remembered for, Livingston’s voice sailed with acceptance and relief instead of irritation and disappointment.
He had to stay positive and keep everybody engaged. There was another championship to be won. If he couldn’t impact games on the floor like he once did, the kernels of advice dropped on Jacob Evans and Jordan Bell as they watched their teammates from the bench would have to do. That influence was more durable than a 12-foot jumper any day.
The story I wanted to write was about his decline, and how someone comes to grips with the end after they’ve fought the inevitable as long and hard as he had. I never wrote it for a variety of reasons, one being there wasn’t anything new to say — Livingston agreed, repeatedly noting the same thing throughout our conversation.
As you know, the Warriors did not three-peat, but Livingston quietly made two important plays after we talked that made me kick myself. Neither was worthy of a box score. The first came at the end of Game 5, about 45 minutes before Steve Kerr — probably with this exact sequence rolling through his head — referred to his team as “fucking giants”.
Klay Thompson’s pass is to Livingston, but it’s wide right heading straight towards Eric Gordon. How many NBA players would have blamed such a wild pass on the teammate who threw it? Livingston throws his body into the fray and somehow manages to hip-check it loose, right into Kevon Looney’s hands while every other Rocket falls asleep. The Warriors were up three at the time, but this still felt like a game-saver, especially with Kevin Durant’s health unknown at the time.
The second play was highlighted in real time. It came at the end of Game 2 against the Raptors, when Steph Curry threw a risky cross-court pass that could’ve/should’ve been picked off by Kawhi Leonard. Somehow, it wasn’t.
Here’s a saying: God lives in the cracks that modern science can’t explain. Meaning, as more and more scientific discoveries are made about the world around us, the less we need divine clarification to sum it all up. For the Warriors, we can look at the box score and see they made X number of threes and held the opponent to X shooting percentage and forced X turnovers. Deeper metrics allow us to understand why they were so much better than their opponent.
But when you think back over the past five years, and all the tight moments they squeaked through or the late runs that were sparked out of thin air to put a game away, I can’t help but think about Shaun Livingston. He lived in the cracks.