GERY WOELFEL: Livingston has come long way on road to recover

2011-12-27T23:27:00Z 2013-12-09T19:17:14Z GERY WOELFEL: Livingston has come long way on road to recoverGERY WOELFEL gwoelfel@journaltimes.com Journal Times

MILWAUKEE - There are certain constants in sports: winning, losing and injuries.

It is inevitable players are going to be hurt at some point in their careers. It's just a question of whether the injuries they sustain are major or minor.

The most serious ones are etched forever in our minds. Who'll ever forget the gruesome injury Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann suffered in 1985 when he was pulled down by New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor in a nationally-televised game?

Taylor landed on Theismann's right leg, practically breaking it in half. Theismann suffered a broken tibia and fibula, ending his career.

Closer to home, who'll ever forget the horrific injury suffered by Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut April 3, 2010?

In a game against the Phoenix Suns, Bogut crashed hard to the Bradley Center floor following a dunk attempt.

Bogut suffered extensive damage to his right elbow, hand and wrist. Two surgeries later, Bogut still isn't 100 percent.

As horrible as the Bogut and Theismann injuries were, the one Shaun Livingston incurred Feb. 26, 2007 was every bit unsettling.

Livingston, whom the Milwaukee Bucks acquired in an offseason trade with Charlotte, was playing for the Los Angeles Clippers at the time. He was considered one of the NBA's bright, young stars.

At 6-foot-7, Livingston's game was silky smooth. Everything he did seemed so ridiculously easy.

But at the tender age of 21, Livingston's ever-so-promising future came to an instant halt that February night in Los Angeles.

Following a missed layup, Livingston fell awkwardly to the floor. His left leg snapped like a twig. So did virtually every ligament in the knee.

Livingston tore his anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and lateral meniscus. His medial collateral ligament was badly sprained and his patella and tibia-femoral joint were dislocated.

The injury was so extensive that ESPN warned viewers of the graphic nature of the injury before airing it.

The odds of any athlete, much less one who competes in a sport where the knee is constantly twisting and turning, fully recovering from such a devastating injury are about as good as Lindsay Lohan joining the convent.

Even Livingston conceded the deck was stacked against him ever playing at the game's highest level again.

"Initially, I was looking at the mountain in front of me and it was like, ‘Wow. I'm really this far away from ever playing again?' " Livingston said. "Even when I got better, my leg would still get tired easy and guys would just blow by me.

"It was frustrating not being able to move. You feel you have a gear inside, but the body is telling you that you don't. It was like I had a flat tire and couldn't go anywhere.

"At times, it was overwhelming, but I always kept believing in myself."

Livingston sat out the 2007-2008 season and diligently rehabbed the knee six days a week.

He also spent a considerable amount of time going to the movies, not at some fancy theater in Tinseltown but in his home.

"At the time I got hurt was the evolution of Chris Paul and Deron Williams as point guards and Steve Nash was at the top of the totem pole for point guards," Livingston said. "I told the video coordinator of the Clippers to give me all the film he had on those three guys, just to see why they were so effective.

"And I also watched film of Sam Cassell to see why he was so effective. I was interested to see how he, even as an older player, could be so effective.

"From watching those guys, from studying those guys, my basketball IQ got a lot better."

Livingston got back on the court the following season - in 2008-2009 - although he played a mere 12 games with Miami and Oklahoma City. Then, he appeared in 36 games the following season with Oklahoma City and Washington.

Last season, Livingston took a gargantuan step in his comeback. He appeared in 73 games for the Charlotte Bobcats, averaging 6.6 points and 17.3 minutes.

Bucks general manager John Hammond and coach Scott Skiles noticed how far Livingston had come and insisted Livingston be part of a blockbuster trade between Charlotte, Milwaukee and Sacramento in June.

Stephen Jackson was the marquee player involved in the transaction for the Bucks, while Livingston was considered by most observers as simply a "throw-in," someone to make the trade workable under salary-cap rules.

Not Hammond and Skiles. They liked Livingston's length - he has a 6-11 wingspan - as a defender and his versatility, being able to play the point guard, shooting guard and small forward positions.

Granted, the Bucks' season is only two games old. But Livingston has already shown concrete signs of being a key contributor.

In the Bucks' season-opening loss to Charlotte Monday night, Livingston played 35 minutes and scored 14 points, connecting on 6 of 10 field goals. He also had six assists and four rebounds.

Tuesday night, in the Bucks' home opener against Minnesota, Livingston turned in another quality performance and scored four points.

It's unreasonable to expect Livingston, now 26, to produce at a high level all season. He is, after all, still not fully recovered. He probably never will be.

"My knee is probably about 80 to 90 percent of what it was before the injury," Livingston said. "To me, I feel I've peaked.

"I'm at a point now where I don't feel my leg is going to give out. My leg doesn't get tired before the rest of my body gets tired now.

"I just might not be able to move at the same gear that I used to move it, but I feel I can be a good player and contribute a lot."

Something few people imagined just a few years ago.

Gery Woelfel is a sports reporter for The Journal Times. Gery can be reached by calling (262) 631-1713 or by email at gery.woelfel@lee.net

Copyright 2015 Journal Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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