Q&A: Peoria basketball standout Livingston reflects on his playing career, selection to hall of fame
Peoria native Shaun Livingston’s accomplishments on the basketball court have been well documented.
Before high school, Livingston led Concordia Lutheran to 89 wins without a loss. He led Peoria High to consecutive IHSA state championships in 2003-04, earning All-American honors and being named Illinois Mr. Basketball as a senior.
He passed on college to enter the NBA Draft, being chosen with the No. 4 pick by the Los Angeles Clippers. He overcame a career-threatening knee injury in 2007, eventually helping the Golden State Warriors win three NBA titles before retiring in 2019 after a 15-year pro career.
Off the court, Livingston gives back to the community by hosting youth basketball camps and conducting outreach programs through his charitable foundation.
On Saturday, he’ll take his place in the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame as part of a 2022 induction class of seven individuals and three teams. Other new hall of famers being honored in the 40th induction banquet at the Peoria Civic Center are Jerry Rashid, Erick “Sheik” Monti, Rick LeHew, Zach Glavash, Jeff Simmons, Fred Miller, the 1975 Princeville and 1983 Washington high school football teams, and the 1985 Limestone softball team.
In a conversation with WCBU reporter Joe Deacon, Livingston discusses his playing career, his dedication to community service, and his hall of fame recognition. This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Joe Deacon: What does it mean to you to be going into the greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame this weekend?
Shaun Livingston: It's funny, I’ve tried to, my whole life, tried to downplay and minimize things, just coming from a humility standpoint. I guess to answer your question, it means a lot. Means a lot to me, means a lot to my father, my grandfather, you know, the family and the people that came before me. To me, I think that's the impact; I think that's the legacy that I was able to leave behind and to accomplish some great things while I was a part of the community. I think the closer it gets, the more that it's sinking in. I'm sure it’ll really sink in once I take the stage come this weekend.
How have you been able to maintain your ties to the Peoria community over the course of your NBA career?
Livingston: One, through basketball camps, community outreach programs, whether it's partnering with the district (and) I had a foundation as well. So it’s just really trying to stay active through my foundation, with a mission in mind. I think that mission was to inspire; that was the mission to inspire the youth. Coming from Peoria, obviously, it's a small town – small city, big town, if you will – getting overshadowed by bigger markets, bigger cities.
I've been fortunate to travel around the world and see some of the opportunities that kids in these bigger markets have, and sometimes the “Davids” get overshadowed by the “Goliaths.” So just being able to come back and inspire the youth, and really give them opportunity – and more so than anything, show them that it's possible; it's possible to do great things or to reach new heights.
How important is it for you to give back to the community with these youth basketball camps and other ways like that?
Livingston: It's always been very important to me, especially while I was playing, to be able to come back and more so just the presence of being in the community, and interacting with the kids and really getting a chance to put your hands on the ground and your feet on the ground with them. Obviously, everybody remembers the run from Golden State, so to come back after that and for kids to see you in person, I think it really struck a chord. And then just again, from a basketball standpoint, not only the kids and the youth, but high school teammates, other Peoria local legends that I was able to collaborate and partner with to give everybody an opportunity to give back and pay it forward to the youth. I think that's ultimately the fulfillment.
What are some of your fondest memories from your playing days in Peoria, going back to grade school and high school?
Livingston: Definitely, the easy ones are the buzzer-beater, the state championships, playing in those games just in front of the whole city and the state. But now, being on the other side, you look back (and) it's always about the journey, it's never about the destination. I mean, it is in a sense that it's special and it's memorable. But thinking about what really counts, it was the journey: the practices, the locker rooms, the bus rides, the pep rallies. All of those things that really fostered interaction, those (are) things that I’ll definitely remember as time goes on.
So you went directly from high school to the NBA, getting drafted fourth overall by the L.A. Clippers. As a senior, how difficult of a decision was it between going to college or the NBA?
Livingston: Yeah, that's a good question because it was a lot harder than what people thought. It’s always, “Oh, take the money. Take the money and run,” you know? But I mean, there was a part of me that was just, I was immersed; it was a special time in my life, those last two years of high school – really being immersed into the moment, just as a youth, as a team, as a teenager. It was a whirlwind; everything just has happened so fast, and not only did it happen fast, but it was just continuing to climb and climb and climb, until it finally peaked right there at the draft, right? It's like, “How did I get here?”
But I was really looking forward to going to college. I committed to go to Duke University, just for the experience and also knowing I was still a kid – more physically, actually, than mentally, which is usually the other way around. Once I got to the NBA, I felt like I was prepared more so for the moment and the opportunity; I knew I had to work to go get it. But I think physically just being 185 pounds soaking wet (and) playing against grown men and guys that were physically developed and mature.
Also the experience of college and being around your peers, that's something that I really, really enjoyed, like I mentioned – being immersed with my teammates, my peers, the locker room, culture and activities. Then, once you get to the NBA, it's more business.
Kind of following up on that, with the NCAA Tournament getting underway now, do you ever think about how things would have been different if you had gone to play college basketball?
Livingston: Yeah, I mean, maybe had a chance to win on all levels. But, you know, it's funny, it’s like “coulda, shoulda, woulda’s,” and then also too, I think it’s that movie, “The Butterfly Effect,” – I think it was (with) Ashton Kutcher - where it's like, you go back in time and you change something, and then it alters the future. So, everything happened the way it was supposed to, fortunately for me. Unfortunately and fortunately, right? – it’s like, I had some experience with injuries that really shaped that perspective for me. But knowing that, I feel like I made the best decision at the time for me, and I stand on that.
You mentioned the injuries, and particularly that major knee injury in 2007. How difficult was it for you to work your way back from that, and were you worried that your career would get cut short?
Livingston: It was one of the most challenging things that I've ever done in my life. But it was also one of the most necessary things that have ever happened to me, just to show me who I can be, my true character, my grit, just pulling it all out of me. So I'm thankful and grateful for that because it pulled out another level inside of me, and showed me who I really was when my back was against the wall.
Of course, there were times of fear and doubt. You don't know if you're going to make it, what's going to happen, the anxiety of the future, being in and out and on the cusp of the NBA, which was ultimately my dream and where I wanted to be, and where I knew I could be because of what I was capable of before the injury. But ultimately, it shaped me; it shaped my path, it shaped my mentality, my mindset, my heart set, and I'm ultimately grateful for it.
So, after coming back, you moved around between several teams and then on to being part of the three championships with Golden State. What are you proudest of from your 15-year NBA career?
Livingston: I would say first, just not quitting on myself. You look back, that's ultimately what resonates. One day, we're all going to go to the same place. I think everybody comes to that point of reflection, and for athletes, it's a case of you die early, in a sense – you die before you die, if you will, because you got to hang them up one day. Obviously, there's guys that kind of defy that, i.e. (NFL quarterback Tom) Brady. I mean, he’ll face that one of these days, maybe 20 years from now, 30 years from now.
But it's like, looking back, giving it your all, not quitting on yourself, that's one. Two, I think, it’s being able to kind of stay true to myself as far as the way I treated people, my character, who I was. I didn’t really burn bridges; there was times where I felt like I deserved more (and) there was times that the NBA business probably got the best of me. But then there was also times where I might have underachieved, so I think it kind of balanced out. But not necessarily burning those bridges and really continuing to persist and move forward.
What was it like being a part of those championships, when the horn sounds and you know that you're going to be getting the ring?
Livingston: Yeah, I mean, it's always the first one is the most special. Always. I mean, it was that way for me in grade school, high school and then the NBA. And again, you go back to the journey; it's the journey to actually get there (and) climb the mountain, all of the BS you go through, all of the grit you put yourself through. The workouts, the “Why the hell am I here? What am I doing getting up this early, drinking this nasty shake, eating these leafy, nasty vegetables? Like, what is this?” Right? Then you achieve, you get there and you're standing there, you're like, “Oh, that's it. This is the validation.”
Not everybody gets there, but I think it's the journey and giving your all to that. Looking back now, I’ve got three rings. I'm grateful, right? I've been able to win my whole life, I've committed myself to winning; that’s something that I've always prided myself on is winning over individual accolades. So just being able to commit myself to winning and sacrifice for the greater good to win and to compete, I can live with that. I think that's ultimately what standing on those stages, lifting the trophy, getting the rings – and then doing it, also sharing that experience too, I would say, go hand-in-hand, 1-A and 1-B, right? – to be able to do that with a group of guys and know that we're all in it for the same goal, and we all sacrifice in a way because it takes that teamwork to make it happen. It's not just one guy; obviously, it's the star or superstars (who) maybe carry more load, but they need horses to come with them. So that feeling of doing it with a brotherhood and that bond that you create with that is ultimately just as rewarding.
So what are you up to now that your playing career is over? What are you working on, or what are you're hoping to do in the next few years?
Livingston: That's the best question now. It’s that next journey of recreating that passion of giving it your all to something, being committed to something. I think it'll be in the form of service; that's what I get fulfillment out of: being able to serve others, being a part of a team, giving your all to that team and that cause, whatever it is, to uplift. So I think that's the mission. You know, “how” is probably going to be the question and it may change.
Right now, I’m in the (Warriors’) front office working player development, also learning the business side and scouting and decision-making. Just learning as much as I can on that end, and then also dipping my toes into business ventures in Silicon Valley: venture capital, private equity and some of the things of that nature, just really immersing myself and being a student and learning. So, it’s kind of a concoction or mixture.