by Nima Zarrabi
Santa Monica, CA — Give Shaun Livingston’s people a call. That is not a shout to NBA general managers. It’s some advice for athletes thinking about putting-together an event to raise awareness for their foundation in a cool and entertaining setting.
I had a chance to attend the “Get-a-Cue Challenge” Thursday evening: a billiards tournament hosted by the Shaun Livingston Foundation, held at Yankee Doodles on the Third Street Promenade. The event was put together to raise awareness of the foundation’s goals and to celebrate Shaun’s healthy recovery from a nasty knee injury suffered 18 months ago. The foundation’s goal is to change the lives of children by helping change their environment, according to one of the foundations directors, Rachel Seward. “That ranges from a whole gamut of things,” she says. “From health and good eating, to physical activity, exercise. Things you can do on and off the court to help you stay strong. Education. Leadership. And it’s also about building teamwork and collaborations.”
The foundation is in its second year of existence and focuses most of its efforts in the Los Angeles area. Thus far, Shaun’s foundation has been active with the LA Best Fit program to promote health and wellness, the Boys and Girls club of the South Bay and has worked in conjunction with the Salvation Army to renovate a basketball court in Compton. Seward says the foundation plans on continuing its work in the LA area and will look to use the same model in the city where Shaun resumes his NBA career.
“Shaun is a young man with an old soul,” she says. “One of the pieces on our website talks about determination. Shaun has persevered from his childhood, through his teenage years and through this horrifying accident he had on the basketball court. What got him through all that was his tenacity and determination to keep his spirit up — to fight and do all the right things. That’s the heart of this foundation. Watching him do that and showing other kids in the community what it takes to get through it.”
The event featured athletes, actors and a variety of other entertainers. While raising money for a good cause, guests were able to enjoy some good food, great music and some high-level billiards. Most of the action took place in the bar’s huge basement, where billiards tables were sprawled outside of a dance floor.
My night began in the ultra-snug red carpet area where I was pressed up against a railing behind a hoard of photographers and video people. I felt like the only one there with a tape recorder. This led to a few awkward moments on the red carpet. I ran into a few entertainers looking to raise their profile. It usually started with them approaching me with something like, “Hello. Who are you with?” Me: “SLAM Magazine — I…” Them: “Oh, great. Let’s do it.” I wish athletes could be this proactive. The only basketball player I met like this was former Laker Rick Fox, who moonlighted as an actor as well. Dude was so accessible. “You guys need anything?” Love, slick Rick.
That said, I got a chance to speak with some really cool peeps — too many to name — so we will stick with those who stood out. One of the first people I caught up with was the beautiful Joyful Drake, an actress who starred in Phat Girlz and Beauty Shop. The Milwaukee native got her start in entertainment as a dancer for the Milwaukee Bucks. “We never won when I danced for them,” she informed me. “Then we traded Ray Allen and had no hope. It was fun. Kept me in good shape.” Drake also mentioned that during her tenure she witnessed Patrick Ewing break his wrist and the return on Michael Jordan from retirement, which ended up a bit troublesome for her because she was cheering MJ on despite him being an opponent.
Jordan Farmar came through with his boy from UCLA Josh Shipp, reality television instigator Omarosa rolled in sporting a Barrack the vote t-shirt, former XXL magazine eye candy Shelly Rio was pushing her web site (check it) and other projects, and Michael Jordan showed up. Michael B. Jordan that is, best known for his phenomenal portrayal of “Wallace” in the best written show in television history, HBO’s The Wire. Michael was cast for the show at age 16, he’s now 21, and has quite a career ahead of him. One of the coolest and most intelligent actors I have ever met (more to come on him). Mekhi Phifer entered the party with his own stick and renowned fabric stretcher Vida Guerra also made an impressionable appearance. Let’s just say there was a decent crowd of people watching her shoot pool. I, of course, was not among them.
In the midst of it all, Mr. Livingston arrived and put his time in with every media outlet. When he got to me, I introduced myself and the publication which brought instant respect. “Thank you so much for coming out man,” he said. “SLAM was one of the first publications to feature me. I’m always checking for it.” His response is one that I receive about 95 percent of the time I intro myself as a pusher of the good book. It definitely gets an interview off on the right track and has also gotten me some dirty looks from bitter beat reporters in many locker rooms over the years.
Shaun was in great spirits — he has gotten rid of the braids, but still looks extremely young. And tall. I forgot that this cat is a legit 6-7 ball handler. Thankfully, he was able to give me a few minutes of his time on what amounted to be a very busy night for him.
SLAM: Tell us about this event.
Shaun Livingston: It’s a celebrity billiards event, a pool tournament that we’re putting on to raise awareness to my foundation, the Shaun Livingston foundation. As you see, we’re brining out various celebrities, actors, actresses, athletes to the event to help out. It’s a great event.
SLAM: It’s rare to see an athlete as young as you are start a foundation. Why was this important to you?
SL: As somewhat of a celebrity, you tend to get looked upon as a role model. Because of that, it spreads. People look up to you, check for what you do and try to follow your footsteps. When you do positive things, it spreads. That’s what it’s all about for us, man.
SLAM: Our readers are very interested to know how you’re doing health wise.
SL: Solid. Solid. I can’t wait to be back. I can’t wait to show people that I can overcome this. The knee is great. I’m getting close to 100 percent. I will be playing this year. It’s going well.
SLAM: What were some of the things that helped pull you through during your rehabilitation?
SL: A lot of motivation and God. Good people in my corner, all of the above. That’s what it’s about. Without that, you can go through some depressing times. There is a lot of downtime. You know, 18 months man….(shakes head). You gotta keep encouraging yourself and a lot of discipline and consistency. I had a lot of that in my corner.
SLAM: Many forget how young you are. You just turned 23.
SL: Exactly. I feel like I still got 10-12 years to play in my career. Think about that window of opportunity. There is still a lot of time left for me.
SLAM: There has been plenty of speculation regarding what team you will end up with. Who is in the running?
SL: Miami, Portland and Minnesota. We’ll see how it turns out. I got a week or so before it’s got to be done. It will be decided pretty quickly. I’m excited.