1 of 3
Tom Smart, Deseret News
Jazz guard Randy Livingston drives past Portland's Joel Przybilla in a game in April 2005. He appeared in 17 games for Utah that season.

Back in the day, 15 years ago this summer, Randy Livingston was all that.

And more.

Much, much more.

"(Jazz general manager) Kevin (O'Connor) said he may have been one of the top two or three players he ever saw play in high school," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan recalled. "He would have been a heck of (an NBA) player."

"Randy Livingston was a great player going into college. Not a good player — a great player," O'Connor added. "I mean, he was (among) the Jason Kidds of the world back then. He was everything a point guard could be, with size, good speed, great mind, (ability to get) the ball anywhere on the court."

Then his knee blew up.

Twice.

First time it happened, the guard tore his anterior cruciate ligament during a July basketball-camp pickup game, even before he took part in his first practice for Louisiana State University, which had to fend off the likes of Duke and North Carolina to keep the New Orleans prep phenom from straying too far from home.

Flash forward.

Kidd is preparing to lead Team USA into the Olympic Games for a second time in his career, one which — before it's done, having come full circle from Dallas to Phoenix and New Jersey and back to Dallas again — will have earned him well in excess of $150 million.

Livingston's tale is that of someone scratching and clawing to hang on, occasional NBA stints scattered among months and months in the minors and nightmarish trips overseas.

It's also one that also finally has come to a close, with the easy-to-like Livingston — whose 12-year pro career includes a short NBA stay in Utah — now observing and assisting the Jazz's Rocky Mountain Revue summer league team as he readies himself for a new career.

"Eventually I want to be a head coach in the NBA," he said during a break this week at the Revue, whose six-day run concludes tonight at Salt Lake Community College. "But I know you have to crawl before you walk. So this is just the first step for me.

"I'm prepared," Livingston added, "to go whatever route it takes to become a head coach."

And it doesn't matter how rocky that road may be, how many obstacles may be in the way. Because if there's one path Livingston knows all too well, it is that which requires overcoming adversity no one should be forced to face.

Prep phenom

The year was 1993, and Livingston was on top of his high school world.

He shared Parade magazine's high school All-America Player of the Year honors with now-Detroit Pistons starter Rasheed Wallace.

One year earlier, as a junior, he had shared the same award with Kidd.

A product of the rough-and-tumble Callioupe Projects area in New Orleans, Livingston parlayed a scholarship uptown to the renowned and private Newman High School — where he rivaled current Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Peyton Manning for popularity, shared the football field with Manning and owned the basketball court on which Manning spent a couple seasons playing behind him.

Livingston would wind up producing three consecutive Louisiana Class 2A state championships for Newman, making art out of dunks and scoring more than 3,000 points while there.

He contemplated declaring for the NBA Draft — which would have been more exception than the rule for a high school player back then — but ultimately opted otherwise.

Livingston instead headed for LSU, where certainly glory days awaited, and eventually so did the NBA, where there were many millions, tens of millions, maybe more than a hundred million, just like Kidd's, to be made.

But that was before the knee exploded.

After reconstructive surgery, Livingston missed his entire freshman season at LSU with a medical redshirt. He played the next season, averaging 14.0 points over 16 games — before the same right joint failed him again, this time because the kneecap had fractured and a patellar tendon had torn during a game against Arkansas. Then he hurt his back during the 1995-96 season, and enough was enough.

To this day, some still book Livingston in the same chapter of LSU sports lore as the legendary ex-Jazz player "Pistol" Pete Maravich — including EA Sports' 2008 NCAA March Madness video game, which ranked Livingston No. 26 on its top-50 list of the all-time best college basketball players, curiously 15 spots higher than Maravich.

But three knee surgeries later, and with just 29 college games to his credit, Livingston decided to do what he could have done prior to all the pain, before so much disappointment.

He declared for the NBA Draft, banged-up body and all.

"When I left school early ... it didn't matter what the trials were, I was prepared to go through it," Livingston said. "And I gave it my best."

Pro career

Though he might have been a top-10 pick in the 1993 draft, Livingston didn't go until the second round — No. 42 overall — when Houston took him in '96 and signed to a one-year, $250,000 deal.

He played in 64 games as a rookie for the Rockets, the knee holding up for all but seven games. But Houston waived him after that first season, and what would follow proved to be more than a decade's worth of physical ailments, mental anguish and truly trying times.

By the time it was all done, Livingston would wear six different numbers, play for nine different NBA teams over 11 of his 12 pro seasons and work on so many 10-day contracts that insecurity would be an ideal choice for his computer password.

Only twice did Livingston play more than 17 NBA games during the same regular season. One season, he appeared in just one game — 1998-99, with Phoenix. Only once did he come close to playing an entire NBA season — 1999-2000, again in Phoenix. And only once did he play for the same franchise in back-to-back seasons — the Suns, counting that lone game in '98-99.

Over the 11 years, he played 203 NBA games, an average of fewer than 19 per season.

Livingston was waived from the Jazz's training camp in 2001, when John Crotty won the backup job behind John Stockton and Rusty LaRue got the mid-season call-up that Livingston had hoped for.

From there it was on to the CBA, one of an alphabet soup's worth of minor-league stops in which he would ride buses, stay in cheap motels, endure subzero temperatures and earn a relative pittance in pay, sometimes well under six figures.

Livingston finally got his turn in Utah in 2005, when he arrived on a 10-day and wound up logging 17 games — but only after Carlos Arroyo was traded away, and Keith McLeod, Howard Eisley and Raul Lopez all sustained injuries of one sort or another.

"He came here and helped us with just one leg," Sloan said. "That's what we talk about all the time: You can play, and have talent, and run and jump. But here's a guy doing it on one leg, because he thought about what he was doing and knew what he was trying to get done. That's a tremendous asset."

"And after watching him play on one leg over the last part of (his career), you can imagine what he would have been on two legs," O'Connor added. "Because he played with his mind."

Tough times

Still, frustration litters Livingston's long and winding road.

There was the time he thought he was going to get a two-year deal with Seattle in 2002, after having helped the Sonics win a couple playoff games the previous postseason, but Gary Payton and Kenny Anderson ended up eating all the point guard money.

And there was the time he figured a nice playoff run with the Suns in 2000 would lead to something, yet he wound up playing only two NBA games the next season for Golden State.

Over the course of his career, Livingston has cashed roughly $5 million in NBA checks. It easily could have been 10, even 20, times that. Yet he never made more than $1 million in any one season and frequently made less than $350,000.

That's still nice by the standards of most, but it's like falling one number short of the big lottery jackpot.

By comparison, consider ex-Jazz guard Derek Fisher — picked 24th in Livingston's '96 draft, one in which Allen Iverson went No. 1 overall — has three rings and will have pocketed more than $45 million by the time he's finished. Even journeyman Jacque Vaughn, who went 27th the next year to the Jazz, has made about $10 million.

But so be it.

Because, really, it's not about the ceiling of money for Livingston. It's about what could have been — on the floor.

"I chose to take that road, and so I don't really have any regrets," said Livingston, a married father of one daughter and one son who now makes the family home in West Palm Beach, Fla.

"I'm happy that (others) got an opportunity to get paid like they did. But you know you're better than them, and you perform better, and didn't get the break. But it just wasn't in the cards for that type of situation to happen.

"The toughest part of the experience," he added, "was just really knowing that you belong — that even after all the injuries, and all of the mishaps, and all the times getting waived, and then working as hard as I did in the minors, not making it, never really truly getting an opportunity to run (an NBA) team."

Playing abroad

Livingston was so desperate to keep playing at times, he even made the leap overseas.

Like so many NBA hopefuls playing in the Revue, the trips amounted to one disastrous experience after another.

One time he went to Russia and wound up spending several weeks in a Moscow hotel without any contact from the team that supposedly wanted him. Another time he went to Greece and played one game there, only to be chased away when it was falsely leaked that he had failed a drug test.

"I've never smoked pot in my life," said Livingston, who successfully managed to overcome the lure of such temptation by a mother who steered her son from the trappings of an infested New Orleans neighborhood.

Then there was the time in Turkey, where the pay didn't exactly turn out to be what was billed.

"After three months," Livingston said, "all the money was gone — mysteriously."

Hit by hurricane

Nothing was more troubling for Livingston and his family, though, than the tragedy of 2005.

Hurricane Katrina wiped out much of New Orleans and scattered Livingston's family members throughout the country.

His home was spared, but his mother — whom he steered clear this time, away from the horror that was the SuperDome, thanks to a fortuitously timed phone call — wound up evacuating on a plane to she-wasn't-precisely-sure-where.

In the storm's aftermath, Livingston, unbeknownst to local reporters at the time, was in Salt Lake City, trying again to stick with the Jazz.

When he found out she was headed to San Antonio, Livingston, who a short time earlier had taken part in a mini-camp with the Spurs, called Sam Presti.

Presti, who worked then in the Texas team's front office, picked up Livingston's mother at the airport at two in the morning. She's back living in New Orleans again. And Presti is still helping Livingston — now, to break into the business of coaching.

D-League champs

Livingston didn't play one game in the NBA last season, a sure sign the end had come.

But he did play the entire season for Idaho of the NBA Development League, leading the Stampede to a title despite the loss of then-Seattle center Saer Sene to a knee injury, the departure of former Weber State big man Lance Allred to a call-up from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Livingston's own torn rotator cuff.

He called it "kind of" a "storybook ending."

Who cares if the book never made the New York Times best-seller list?

"Any time you can win a championship, especially if you can leave knowing you gave it your all and that was the result of it, whether it's in the D-League and the CBA or the NBA, that's always a good way to finish your career," Livingston said.

"I was proud of that accomplishment, but going through the D-League is a tough deal. You don't really get paid. So it's really a passion for the game of basketball, just to see a group of guys come together."

And now Livingston, who has spent the last few years in what he calls "player-coach mode," is ready to coach those guys full-time.

Jazz shooting guard Morris Almond, who spent time playing against Livingston in the D-League last season with the Utah Flash, could see it coming.

"I knew he'd be a coach eventually," said Almond, who was surprised — but not shocked — to see Livingston walk out with Jazz coaches for that first day of Revue camp last week.

Livingston had worked one-on-one before the 2006 NBA Draft with Tyrus Thomas of the Chicago Bulls, who went No. 4 overall. He spent time earlier this summer with Russell Westbrook, a guard taken fourth this year by Oklahoma City, where Presti is now the general manager. And he's spent the past week and a half working for free in Utah, all in hopes of landing a full-time coaching gig — somewhere, anywhere.

"My body kind of told me it was time," Livingston said. "There is nothing else I can do ... as far as playing. It was just time to move."

He felt it, like one can forecast rain in a bum knee.

"You go back to my draft, and I see some of the guys that have played 12 years like I played, and you wonder what would have happened, maybe, if I had never gotten hurt," Livingston said.

"But I took everything in stride, and I just made the best out of my career, and lived with what my abilities were on the court. I didn't really cry about getting hurt.

"I left everything I had as far as playing. I enjoyed it, and now it's time to move on to something else I'm passionate about."


E-mail: [email protected]