LAS VEGAS -- There is a YouTube video I'm sure you're familiar with, showing Shaun Livingston grotesquely dislocating his left knee in 2007 while driving for an uncontested layup. If you haven't watched it yet, do yourself a favor.
Don't. Don't click this.
Just watch Livingston now and appreciate how far he's come.
Shaun Livingston, who played nine games for Oklahoma City during the season, was back in action with the Thunder this summer. (Getty Images)
OK, maybe in some ways you have to watch the video to understand what an incredible feat it is for Livingston to be on a basketball court at all. When he crumpled to the floor at Staples Center 2½ years ago -- sheering three ligaments and dislocating the patellar tendon from his kneecap when his left leg caved in -- the question wasn't whether Livingston would ever play again. The question was whether he'd ever run again. Or even walk.
The word "amputation" was relayed to him as a possible course of treatment.
But the surgeons would've needed more anesthesia than exists in the world to subdue Livingston for that procedure. There weren't enough surgical tools or talents in Los Angeles to cut the love of basketball out of Livingston's heart.
And so there he was at Las Vegas Summer League earlier this month, walking without a limp and playing point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was there trying to keep up with younger, healthier bodies. He was walking, dribbling, passing proof of the cataclysmic blows life can deal to your dreams.
"The explosiveness still isn't there to what I want, because I know what I had," Livingston said. "I'm still not there. I'm still working to get there. I've just got to keep playing hard, keep working and see where it takes me."
Livingston dislocated his right knee during his rookie season with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2004-05 -- the first catastrophic injury to a player so quick, so gifted, so 6-foot-7 as to inspire comparisons to Magic Johnson. The cursed Clippers made him the No. 4 pick in the 2004, the same year Dwight Howard went No. 1 and Ben Gordon went No. 3. Howard is coming off a trip to the NBA Finals, and Gordon just signed a $55 million free-agent contract. If not for life's cruelty, Livingston could have been in either one's shoes.
What is certain is that no basketball player would ever want to walk where Livingston has walked. Nobody deserves to travel such a humbling and often demeaning road back from one of the worst injuries in basketball history.
He still wears a padded brace on the left knee and says he has overcome the doubt about whether the devastated joint will hold up. There's no way to prove that; Livingston, 23, must merely take it one dribble at a time. His chances of cracking the rotation in Oklahoma City -- where Russell Westbrook and No. 3 pick James Harden represent the future -- are slim at best. One NBA front-office executive who watched Livingston during summer league games in Orlando and Las Vegas said he's come a long way and plays much smarter than he did before the injury.
Still, the executive said, "He has a long way to go."
He's come pretty far already.
"When I was younger, everything was athleticism and raw ability," Livingston said. "I wish I could combine that with what I have now, but it'll come back. I think I'll be competing for some minutes on this team."
In the corner of COX Pavilion, outside a curtained crevice that served as a locker room for summer league games, I asked Livingston to tell me the most difficult part of this journey back. He paused for a few seconds, exhaled deeply, and said this:
"The most difficult part probably was at first, early on, really telling yourself that you can do it every day. I didn't know what to expect. There's no process. There's no timetable. I didn't know if I was ever going to play again. I'm just going at it and just knowing that one of these days, it's going to click and I'm going to get back out there."
Let's hope so. The Shaun Livingston who existed before that YouTube clip might never exist again. But I like this one and will root for him. You should, too.