When it happened, when Kevin Ware’s right leg snapped on national television Sunday in Indianapolis, thousands of tweeters recalled the last time they had seen such a horrific injury.
It was Feb. 26, 2007, when the Clippers’ Shaun Livingston landed awkwardly after missing a layup. His left knee turned inside while and his left leg twisted outside. Livingston, then a 21-year-old potential franchise cornerstone, tore nearly every ligament in the knee.
He suffered a dislocated kneecap and patella, tore his anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament, and meniscus, and the joint that connects the leg to the thigh. At the time of the injury, Livingston was considered a future star, a 6-foot-7-inch point guard with dazzling skills compared with Anfernee Hardaway.
His slight build made him susceptible to injuries and he had yet to play a full NBA season, but he was gaining strength and confidence when his career was curtailed irrevocably. Livingston was never expected to play productively again, and he missed the 2007-08 season while the Clippers did not renew his contract.
He then became a basketball carpetbagger, attempting to prove he could play at an NBA level despite the injury robbing him of his athleticism. The Cavaliers are the seventh NBA stop since the injury and he has carved out a role as a backup point guard. He played nearly 24 minutes in Cleveland’s 97-91 win over the Celtics Friday at TD Garden, scoring 7 points with 4 assists, 2 blocked shots, and 2 rebounds.
Livingston has made the best of a heartbreaking situation, remaining relevant despite the star label quickly fading following the injury. He can relate to Ware, having to deal with looks of sympathy and compassion and murmurs of what might have been if his leg had not collapsed.
“Just the passion to play the game is what kept me going,” he said. “If you’re passionate about something and you work hard for it, even though the face of adversity. I am a man of faith and faith is not always supposed to happen and what you see, sometimes it’s just walking that path. Everybody has their own path and I believe everything happens for a reason and you kind of just rock with it.”
Ware is expected to play again and the injury, despite the goriness, is not career-threatening. Livingston suffered a more damaging fate. Doctors says ligament tears are much more difficult to overcome than bone breaks, and Livingston had to rehabilitate from multiple ligament tears. His quickness, at one time a strength, was gone.
He has walked the road Ware is about to embark, an arduous rehabilitation filled with self doubt, constant visions of that night, and questions about your durability and desire.
“I would say stay away from the public’s opinion,” Livingston said when asked what advice he would offer Ware. “Just stay strong with his faith and focus on the positives.
“Obviously everything is going to be about what he can’t do, his limitations and all that. He has to focus on the positives, moving forward. That’s the way he’s going to make progress.”
Livingston has managed to remain an option for NBA teams needing a quality backup. He is still seeking security — a multiyear contract, not a 10-day deal. But he is at the mercy of a league that’s unsympathetic toward fallen players.
“It’s kind of the same story, you want to put yourself in a good position to have a good summer,” he said. “I’m happy with how things have kind of turned out. I’m trying to finish strong and continue to play my road and be solid and help these guys. I want to be as productive as I can.”
In 43 games with the Cavaliers, Livingston is averaging 7.4 points, 3.5 assists, and shooting 50 percent from the field. He knows his limits. He doesn’t attempt 3-pointers (just one this year). He uses his length to back down smaller defenders and he uses his reach to score layups.
The summer will decide whether Livingston is making more than a temporary stop in Cleveland. He has gained the confidence of his coach, Byron Scott, who has worked him into the team’s regular rotation.
“I think in the right situation, the one thing with Shaun, you don’t want him to have to play heavy, heavy minutes,” Scott said. “He would be great with us, next year coming off the bench at that 15-minute mark. I think he could play four, five, six more years in this league. He’s one of those guys that does a little bit of everything for you.
“When we first got him, all the negative things that you heard was he can’t defend. He can’t do this. He can’t do that. But what he can do is he can help lead a team. He can run an offense. He’s got unbelievable size at the point guard position. He can play three different positions and a lot of stuff that they said he couldn’t do, I found out that he could do.
“I love the fact that when a guy comes away from the injury like he had, and to be able to come back and participate in this league and play at a high level, that shows a lot about what he’s all about, a lot about his character and a lot about his heart.”
Livingston says he’s at peace. He always will be identified first with his injury and then his comeback. He realizes that stardom likely will never come, but good health has.
“I’m about as close to 100 percent as I am going to be,” he said. “And I’m good with that.”