PEORIA — Shaun Livingston has faced adversity his entire life.
Livingston and his Golden State Warriors teammates faced plenty of it on their way to winning back-to-back NBA championships and the organization’s third in four years.
The 2004 Peoria High graduate summarized his third NBA title in one word: “Special.”
“I think the fact of how hard the season was,” said Livingston. “It’s probably the most adversity we had with injuries and not winning, not getting the first seed (after) three years in a row (we were) the top seed, win the most games in the league in the regular season.
“But this year Houston was a legitimate threat, with our injury situations, drama, whatever; to come out after it all on top, that was the sweet part.”
The Pride of Peoria has made a home in Golden State. He has played four seasons with the Warriors, more than any of his eight previous teams — largely because he suffered a horrific knee injury early in his career. He has since overcame the injury and become a key role player for the NBA’s latest dynasty.
Over his four years in the Bay Area his team’s accomplishments are historic. Golden State set a record for wins in a regular season, going 73-9 in 2015-16 — the only season of his four in Oakland that didn’t end with the Warriors hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Warriors added Kevin Durant, a top player in the league, while maintaining their core of homegrown all-stars.
But in the mere hours after sweeping the Cleveland Cavaliers this season in the NBA Finals, Livingston alluded to the adversity his team faced while trying to repeat. He told ESPN’s Marc Spears, “shout out to (coach) Steve Kerr for dealing with all our B.S. this year.”
Back in his hometown and at Weaver Ridge Golf Course for his annual golf outing, Livingston elaborated: “It was just the motivating part. Motivating us in the middle of January, trying to play a fourth seed in our division, a bottom-five team in the league and trying to get motivated because maybe we lost the game before. ... You’ve got guys that have been all-NBA, MVPs, all-stars and now you’re winning championships and you’re trying to motivate a guy that is trying to go out and compete against a player that hasn’t done any of those things or a team that hasn’t accomplished any of those things.”
Kerr didn’t have to give the Warriors motivation when they fell behind the Houston Rockets 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals. In fact, Livingston said he was more confident in his team because their backs were against the wall in attempting to defend their title.
“Honestly, I didn’t really have a doubt,” he said.
“I’m fortunate enough to play with great players, so being in this position and now having experience with that, you start looking for those challenges to give you that extra motivation,” Livingston said, “because without that motivation it’s a game, (and) you’re just out there playing, running up and down.
“But when you’re motivated, dedicated and playing with joy and passion, then it turns into love and it turns into something you care about. It’s hard to do after reaching the top, the pinnacle.”
What Livingston and the Warriors have accomplished gives him a greater appreciation for those like fellow Peorian Jim Thome, who later this month will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“You look at what Jim Thome’s doing, going to the Hall, it couldn’t be more deserved because of the sustained level of greatness,” Livingston said. “That’s the hardest thing. That’s why there are certain players that are up there, because it’s easy to have a great year, but to have a great year, and another one, and another one, and another one; that’s how you turn yourself into being great.”
The rich have gotten richer as DeMarcus Cousins will become the fifth all-star in the Warriors lineup when he returns from a torn Achilles next season. Livingston and his teammates had the same reaction as when Durant announced he was joining the team in 2016.
“He’s played with four of the all-stars before with USA, so I’m sure he has a little bit of a connection with them. But, again, I think we were all shocked,” Livingston said.
Livingston says Golden State’s culture of being “good people” is what makes them so attractive. It just happens that they’re also great players.
Said Livingston: “I think just from a basketball standpoint of him coming and trying to find that nirvana, if you will, searching for that joy in the game of basketball because he’s just a hoop head at heart. ... I think he was looking for that door to go to the next level, just as far as basketball was concerned because it’s his first love.
“It’s all of our first loves, but when you get to the NBA and you get to the pros in any sport, the passion and joy gets taken away because of the business and what not. I think he was searching for that, and Golden State is probably the best place for him.”
The Warriors’ addition doesn’t come without another challenge as LeBron James, who met the Warriors in the NBA Finals the previous four years, announced he would sign with the division-rival Los Angeles Lakers.
“It’s always going to change wherever (LeBron) goes, because he carries that much weight as a player, deservedly so, and wherever he goes, that team’s chances get a lot higher,” said Livingston. “It’s going to be fun, honestly, fun for the league, fun for the fans, fun just to see the competition level in the West and see the games.”
Livingston and the Warriors will prepare for the challenge but first, he is going to cherish the next few weeks back in Peoria. Aside from visiting with friends and family, Livingston will be a part the Pride of Peoria basketball camp July 10-12 at Peoria High. In his free time, he’ll channel his love for Peoria by visiting with the community.
“Just getting around to different community centers and being able to touch the ground. That’s more important than anything, more important than giving money and signing stuff,” Livingston said of trips home. “Just being able to reach out and touch people and be like, ‘Hey, I’m here. What’s up?’ Talk to them, look them in their eye. Kids see you. They just saw you on TV, and now you’re in front of them. That is what it’s about for me.”