Quiet Steady Climb
From prep superstar to D-League head coach, Randy Livingston has much to teach.
by Donnell Suggs
Long before there was a CP3 or a DRose or even a Kyrie Irving, there was Randy Livingston. The 1993 National Player of the Year (he was named co-Player of the Year in 1992 alongside Jason Kidd) out of Louisiana’s Isidore Newman High School, Livingston was a 6-4 scoring machine who also could play a traditional pass-first, floor leader type of game.
Recruited by every school in the country, Livingston chose to play for his hometown Louisiana State University Tigers and Coach Dale Brown. “Early on I had great coaches, Billy Fitzgerald at [Isidore] Newman and Bill Robinson my AAU coach with the Louisiana Spartans, Coach Brown at LSU too. I’ve learned a lot from those guys,” said Livingston, during a recent interview following an Idaho Stampede practice.
Livingston learned a lot throughout his career, and his many ups and downs have forged the type of man who has much to teach.
Boise, ID is the home base of the current head coach of the Stampede, the local D-League franchise. Livingston has his number retired there after years of service during his time as a player in the CBA and briefly in the D-League. Livingston was supposed to have his jersey in the rafters of an NBA area—not to mention at LSU, where he played his college ball. It didn’t quite work out that way.
Major injuries during the summer before his freshman season at LSU—a torn ACL during a pickup game as a counselor at ABCD camp—resulted in his missing the entire season. A broken kneecap during his sophomore season—when Livingston was averaging a double-double and LSU fighting for the SEC’s top spot—forced him to make the difficult decision to enter the Draft and leave Baton Rouge.
He managed to play in only 32 college games, none in the NCAA Tournament. Despite the injuries he was drafted in the second round (42nd overall) of the 1996 NBA Draft by Houston.
“Besides my years in Phoenix, my time in Houston was my best experience in the NBA,” Livingston said. “Playing with three of the top-50 players of all time was a blessing.” Following a positive rookie season—he played in 64 games for a team that lost in the Western Conference finals to Utah on a game-winning three by John Stockton in Game 7—Livingston moved to Atlanta for a season as a free agent due to roster and contract conflicts.
Houston had too many guards signed to long-term deals (the Brent Prices of the world). Livingston would spend the majority of the year in the CBA for the Idaho franchise before moving on to Phoenix for two seasons. His second year in Phoenix (the ’99-00 season) was his best statistically, as he ended up playing in 79 games, starting the final 15 following a Jason Kidd injury.
“After [Jason] Kidd got hurt, I finished the regular season as the starter and we beat San Antonio in the first round of the Playoffs,” Livingston explains. “It was the best season of my career by far.”
Surprising to both Livingston and the Phoenix brass, he wasn’t able to stay on the squad due to financial issues. The next seven years had Livingston shuttling back and forth between the Idaho Stampede and the NBA, playing no more than 17 games for the likes of Golden State, Seattle, his hometown Hornets for two games, the Clippers, Jazz and finally, Bulls. He also spent a season in Turkey in 2006.
Throughout his 10-year NBA career, having played for nine teams, Livingston was cut 20 times but never gave up the dream of being involved with professional basketball. His motivations varied through all of the ups and downs: “My mom worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, I inherited her strength and drive. Growing up in the Calliou (LA) housing projects, I had to be tough in order to get where I got during my career.”
Other than his mother, there were veteran players who not only motivated Livingston but acted as examples who went from nothing to something via the minor leagues. Players like Robert Pack and Avery Johnson pulled Livingston aside early in his career through all of the call-ups and cuts. “Those guys were great examples of hungry players that caught a break and took full advantage of it with their hard work,” Livingston said.
After being named the ’06-07 D-League MVP and leading the Stampede to the ’07-08 D-League championship, Livingston called it quits, leaving on his own terms with another goal set in his sights: coaching.
“The best part of my journey was that I got to learn from a lot of veteran players and coaches and meet a lot of people in the business. I made sure to handle all of my setbacks as positive as I could and that led folks to learn more about [me] on and off the court.”
As of March 24, the Idaho Stampede were 18-27 on the season and out of Playoff contention, but that didn’t stop Coach Livingston from talking up some of his players. “This season has been a success because we have a bunch of players here that are playing better and getting closer to getting back up to the League if they keep it up,” Livingston said.
Big man Mikki Moore and super quick former first-round pick Marcus Banks are still young enough to take another shot at the big time. But another of Livingston’s players with NBA experience might need to focus more on another goal. Antoine Walker is a former NBA All-Star and Champion with the Miami Heat that has fallen on both financial and professional hard times.
In other words, Livingston is the perfect coach for Walker. Both were McDonald’s All Americans and SEC stars, and both achieved success in the NBA Playoffs. And both arrived in Boise looking for relief late in their careers.
“I have spoken to ‘Toine on many occasions and let him know that he has to have an exit plan,” Livingston said. “When you have an exit plan you always have a chance to succeed at life.”
While still playing in the D-League, Livingston completed his college degree by taking online college programs. “I had to be willing and humble to take full advantage of that opportunity,” Livingston said. “I just felt at the end of the day everything was going to work out. All of those ups and downs weren’t for nothing.”
Walker has plans to play for a few more seasons while working on his degree. No doubt Livingston was an inspiration.
With his contract up after this season (there are two weeks left in the season), Livingston is keeping his options open and is ready for whatever comes his way: “I love Boise, it’s definitely a home away from home for me and my family.”
Livingston has a 4-year-old son, Randy Jr, (he also has a daughter from a previous relationship in Louisiana) who lives and breathes the game according to his father, “He’s always got a basketball in his hands.”
When asked if he could do it all over again, the veteran of four professional leagues was clear in his answer, “As a player I would have liked to have been 100 percent healthy so I could know how far my game would have taken me. On the other hand I don’t know if I made millions of dollars I would have been in the wonderful situations that led to the relationships I’ve made throughout my career. I am proud of what I made of myself as a player and a coach.”
We are too, Randy. We are too.