Shaun Livingston spent a full year stealing glances at his hazy future, and the last three months he simply stared into it. Not until this week, though, did he have clear visibility.
His heart was whispering, urging him to play another year. In the NBA. Only the NBA.
His mind was doubting, questioning whether he had it in him.
His body? Well, it was barking and shouting, more than 12 years of agony and aches and constant maintenance blistering his ear and begging him to let it go, to devote himself for labors much less demanding than that of another eight or nine months and finally accept the life he knows is waiting.
So, on Friday, one day after his 34th birthday, with family and friends and folks in the media seeking resolution, Livingston took to Instagram to announce he was retiring.
His final season was a slog, as signs of physical decline surfaced. His lateral quickness was diminishing, hurting his defense. His offense came and went, fine one night and absent on another. His pregame routine required extended therapy, and still, he needed additional rest. He was one of the early examples of a load management program.
“It’s getting harder,” Livingston conceded after a shootaround in March in Houston. “The aches linger a little longer, but I’m still enjoying it. Can’t say that my body always does.”
It was after some postseason reflection and listening to his mind and body, and following both, that he was able to put a bow on a career once so dramatically altered there was rational fear it would end at the profoundly unfair age of 21.
Livingston, who spent 14 seasons in the NBA, walks away after the five best years of his career. He was a valuable reserve on a Warriors team that won three championships and made five consecutive trips to The Finals. After an eight-team journey during which he never spent more than three years with one employer, he landed on the free-agent market for the umpteenth time and found the Warriors in July 2014.
He signed a three-year contract and by its conclusion was calling Oakland “home.” After resurrecting and stabilizing his career, he became a free agent in 2017. Not for a moment did he consider shopping for a bigger role or a bigger contract with another team.
Minutes into free agency, Livingston agreed to re-sign with the Warriors. And when I texted him to ask why he didn’t consider going back on the market, his response spoke volumes.
“Can’t put a price on happiness.”
He was thrilled to finally find a successful franchise that understood his physical challenges and used him properly. Playing behind All-Stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Livingston’s minutes were monitored. It became evident he produced best – and was most durable – when restricted to about 18 minutes per game. He could, in a pinch, go beyond that, but he’d feel it the next day.
His steady leadership was of value. Livingston and fellow Illinois native Andre Iguodala were the twins of wisdom in a locker room that ran the gamut of personalities. Iguodala, with his unflinching wit, could play “bad cop.” Livingston, with his breezy manner and unique perspective, was the “good cop.”
Now both are gone. Iguodala traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, Livingston opting to hang up his jersey.
Ten years earlier, Livingston began his career with hopes of becoming a transformational star. A 6-foot-7 point guard entering the NBA out of Peoria, Ill. at age 18, drafted fourth overall by the Los Angeles Clippers, his game had elements of Penny Hardaway, Magic Johnson and, in today’s game, midrange scoring ace DeMar DeRozan.
The most dazzling elements of Livingston’s game perished on the Staples Center floor in February 2007 with a devastating injury to his left knee. He sustained tears to his ACL, MCL, PCL and lateral meniscus, along with a dislocated knee cap and a broken tibia and fibula. So demolished was his left leg, there briefly was fear amputation might be necessary.
Livingston fought back and forced his way back into his dream. It was never better than in the last five years, which surely made his decision a little easier.
It was time to go. It just took a few months to say goodbye.