Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Time Travel, Adversity and Comebacks

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

What if I suggested that the best story of Golden State Warriors’ recent dynasty, one that included five consecutive NBA Finals and three championships between 2015 and 2019, wasn’t the rise of Stephen Curry to the NBA’s fan darling and league MVP?  Or Curry and Klay Thompson becoming the three-point raining “Splash Brothers” – the game’s best backcourt?  Or the arrival of Prince George’s County’s own Kevin Durant in 2016 to help win back-to-back titles?  Or even that this uber-talented group willingly sacrificed for a greater mutual cause?

Nope, it wasn’t any of those.  The best story during this great run by this very entertaining team was the incredible journey by a low-profile reserve who never averaged 10 points per game (PPG).    
Before getting to that, rewind to late February 1991.  I am 18 and engrossed in sports.  I also have a budding fascination with sports injuries, for which I have no explanation.  I had neither the grades nor the nerve to consider even a modest career in medicine.  Nevertheless, my interest in Achilles and patella tendons, rotator cuffs, ACLs and Tommy John (ulnar collateral tendon) surgeries was and is real. 

That passion was stoked on that long-ago February when The Sporting News arrived in my parents’ mailbox.  On the cover was a close-up of Washington Bullets forward Bernard King’s right knee with a long gruesome scar running down its middle.  The headline read “Anatomy of a Comeback.”

Those of adequate vintage will remember King as one of the NBA’s best pure scorers - quick, explosive and equipped with an unstoppable turn-around jumper.  For those who don’t remember King, look up his stats.  My favorite: his career field goal percentage of 51.4.  That’s unheard of for a high-volume shooter and non-center.  To give it context, it’s better than the career field goal percentages of Curry, Durant or LeBron James.

In 1985, while averaging a league-best 32.9 PPG, King tore his right ACL.  ACL tears are tough injuries now; in 1985 they were career-enders.  It took two years, and he never fully regained his explosiveness, but King beat the odds, returned to the NBA and posted four more 20-plus PPG seasons, including 28.4 PPG in 1990-91 (hence The Sporting News feature).

Fast-forward to February 2007.  Shaun Livingston, a 21-year-old, up-and-coming point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers suffered a horrific left knee injury while playing against the Charlotte Bobcats.  Livingston tore his ACL, PCL and MCL, dislocated his patella and sustained meniscus damage.  I saw it live - it was catastrophic.  For all intents and purposes a young career ended just like that.
But like King, Livingston wasn’t interested in the limits of conventional wisdom.  After 20 months of rehab, Livingston returned to the NBA with Miami Heat in October 2008.  He was back, but just barely: from 2008-2014, Livingston played for seven teams (including the Wizards…twice) and was traded or waived multiple times. 

Before the 2014-15 season, at the age of 29, Livingston signed with the Warriors where he became, over the next five seasons, a key reserve on three championship teams and the 2015-16 Warriors that won a record 73 regular season games.

Jumping back to the present, Livingston, after 15 years and a truly remarkable journey, announced his retirement last week.  Of all the amazing things these Warriors did over the last five years, it was Livingston – for his mere presence on the court and tenacity in finding a key role on this uber-talented team – who I found most inspirational.  He shouldn’t have been there, but he was; he certainly shouldn’t have thrived, but he did.

How did King and Livingston beat the odds and make it back to the NBA?  For that answer we travel back in history again – about 400 years this time – to revisit these prophetic words from William Shakespeare: “Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head.” 

Ah yes…when adversity, hideous and poisonous, cometh to our doorstep, recall Sir King and Sir Livingston, and the hidden jewel that lurks on the other side of conquering uninvited misfortune. 

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