TWO NIGHTS later,
NBA TV strapped a microphone to Livingston's belly and aired his comments
during Idaho's second game. He received a bit of media instruction before the
tip-off from former Milwaukee Bucks coach Terry Stotts, the D-League's new
coaches consultant. "You've got to come over and have a conversation with
the coach, because you're the coach on the floor," Stotts said. "You've
got to have a conversation with a young player, because then you're mentoring.
You've got to talk to the officials. And you've got to swear some. Those are
all the things you have to do."
Livingston is the
best player in the D-League, its reigning MVP. At 32 he earns the maximum of
$26,600, but he isn't fazed by the low pay. For one thing, he has spent parts
of each of the previous 11 seasons in the NBA; though he had played in just 220
regular-season and playoff games, his various appearances had added up to a
lucrative living. "If you get called up to the NBA for two 10-day
contracts," points out an NBA scout, "that's $150,000 right
But Livingston has
more than 10-day contracts on his mind. He has heard that the Boston Celtics
are in need of a backup point guard, and he wants to receive consideration if
the job were ever posted. "I know Gary Payton and Travis Best are a couple
of veteran guys who have thrown their names in the mix," says the 6'4"
Livingston. "But I really believe that I could help that team. I have a
great relationship with Danny Ainge—I played for him in Phoenix. I'm big enough
to guard Chauncey [Billups, the Detroit Pistons' All-Star point guard]. I'm
playoff-tested: I've played in a conference finals, I've played in four playoff
series. [Signing with the Celtics is] kind of my dream, but I haven't told a
lot of people that."
another reason for sticking around: to get his bachelor's degree. He left LSU
after three seasons in 1996 without a diploma, and D-League players can take
classes online free of charge through the University of Phoenix. He is majoring
in mass communications with a minor in political science, and he hopes to coach
college basketball, perhaps as early as next season.
will find it difficult to stop playing while he remains so effective. Through
Sunday he was averaging 16.2 points and a league-high 11.1 assists in 40.4
minutes and had led the Stampede to a 17--5 record, the best in the league.
Most impressive is his enthusiasm despite misfortune that might have made
others feel cheated: When Livingston arrived in Baton Rouge in 1993 he was
viewed as a peer to Jason Kidd, a rare blend of instinct, intelligence and
slashing athletic talent. But two major knee injuries limited him to 31 games
at LSU, and now here he was a dozen years later in Boise.
"If I wasn't
getting hurt and I was a superstar at the next level, I don't know if I would
have been as humble and appreciative of a lot of things," he says.
"Maybe I wouldn't care about helping the young guys out. Maybe I wouldn't
care about the game as much because I had so much athletic ability. Looking
back on it, I just know in my heart I would have been one of the best guards to
ever play. But off the court? I don't know."
IN THE LOCKER room
before the Stampede took the floor for its opening game of the Showcase, Gates
addressed the tension felt by every player but Sene, McRoberts and perhaps
Livingston. The rest knew that dozens of NBA talent evaluators were in the
stands and that one big outing might change their careers. "You guys have
worked so hard for one of these moments," the coach said. "All these
guys are watching because you've earned the right for them to watch you
The speech was
meant particularly for Allred, the 6'11", 250-pound center who had come a
long way just to reach this point. An illness at birth cost Allred 75% of his
hearing, and he was raised in polygamist communities in Montana and Utah before
his parents left the Allred Group, which was founded by Lance's grandfather
Rulon Allred, who was assassinated by rival polygamists in 1977. "It's
amazing if you sit in a polygamist home long enough and just watch from the
kitchen table," Lance says. "You see the several wives or sister wives,
you see all the manipulating and politicking going on, and it's just
fascinating. They'll team up and say, 'We've got to get our husband to do this,
let's all stick together.' But then one of them goes away, and then another one
goes away and another—and then when the husband comes back in the room and
they're all away but one, she will sell them all down the river to the husband
to get what she wants.
nothing I want any part of. Because marriage with one person, that's hard
enough. Imagine being married to seven people?"
Allred, who is
single, did not play organized basketball until he was 14, and he had to learn
how to read defenders and others' body language to compensate for what he
couldn't hear on the court. (He removes his $5,000 hearing aids before games
because crowd noise—even in the sparsely populated D-League arenas—renders them
ineffective.) In the fall of 2006 he barely made the Stampede roster but then
took advantage of late-season openings and played well enough over the last
three weeks to enter training camp last fall as Idaho's starting center, with a
salary of $24,000. He was averaging a solid 18.8 points and 10.6 rebounds
entering the Showcase yet had been able to sleep only three hours on the eve of
the Stampede's first game, so consumed was he by this rare opportunity to prove
that he was capable of playing in the NBA. An obsessive-compulsive personality
who tends to demand perfection of himself, he lay on his back near Idaho's
bench before the introductions with his knees bent high like twin pyramids, his
thumbs wedged in between his teeth. This is my energy, he told himself. All I
can do is worry about what I can control and not the stuff that's beyond my