An Illinois Reunion In D.C.
With four minutes and 20 seconds left in the third quarter of last night’s Wizards/Bulls game, Wizards guard Shaun Livingston took a pass from Cartier Martin deep in the paint, and maneuvered himself free for a short jumper–his 10th point of the night.
Almost as soon as the ball went through the net and hit the ground, Chicago Bulls All-Star guard Derrick Rose, took the inbounds pass, sprinted down the court, weaved around until he could find an opening, and went to the basket, where he was fouled by Wizards forward James Singleton. He hit both free throws to bring his point total to 20.
“Nice intrastate PG battle as Peoria (Livingston) & Chicago (Rose) are going at each other. Chicago 20-3-2 while Peoria has 10-5-3.”
Blame it on it being Friday, or blame it on my lack of pre-game research, but up until that tweet, I had failed miserably to make the connection, that both Rose and Livingston were from Illinois. I did some quick research via the Google search engine, and was able to glean some quick facts. Both players were Mr. Illinois basketball (Livingston in 2004, Rose in 2007), both players won two high school titles, and both were named to the McDonald High School All -American team.
But what I was not able to find is if these two gentlemen had ever played against each other on any level. I also wasn’t able to find any real quotes about what they thought about each other’s game now and in high school. Rose had to have heard about Livingston as he went through grade school, and Livingston had to have at least had an opinion about a player who was accomplishing the same things he had three years earlier. I don’t know whether my Google skills are declining or what, but I did not find anything.
And thus a post game assignment was born.
Right after the Bulls 95-87 over the Wizards, I made my way over to the Bulls locker room to get some quotes from Rose about Livingston. Initially, there was quite the scrum around Rose, so I just thrust my recorder as close to his face as possible, hoping to get some good quotes. And lo and and behold, he addressed Livingston.
“Shaun, he’s a good player. One of the players I looked up to in Illinois,” Rose said. “He won Mr. Basketball, I think, two years in a row[he won it once]. Won state two years in a row. First player ever to do that. He’s like a legend in Illinois. For me to be playing against him, he’s a veteran player, means a lot.”
Once the scrum subsided and I had the chance to talk to Rose alone, I asked him to compare Livingston’s game now, post-surgery, to his game in high school.
“Man, he’s gotten much better and his confidence is just soaring, ” Rose observed. “He was always known for passing the ball and getting everyone involved, but now he has a post game and he’s better at scoring the ball, so that’s the biggest difference right there.”
I also asked Rose what specifically about Livingston he admired and whether he planned to talk to him before leaving the Verizon Center.
“I’m not a big guard like he is, but I think I’m bigger than most point guards, so I watched how he used his size. Plus he just always seems to know the right pass to make, and I could always get better at that. I can score all day long, but my passing is not quite as good as his. And I want to talk to him before I leave, but we have a game tomorrow, so I might not be able to. We’ll see.”
I shook Rose’s hand, and then made my way over to the Wizards’ locker room. Trying to do double locker room duty in the NBA is always a risk, but its even more risky when the second locker room you’re visiting is the losing team. With the exception of former Washington Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, who would stick around and talk to the media win or lose, most players dress and leave quickly after a loss. And even if the players don’t leave right away, they aren’t always up for a conversation.
Sure enough, when I entered the Wizards locker room, it was virtually empty. JaVale McGee had just finished getting dressed, and was making his way out of the locker room, and directly across from him, there was one other player holding court in front of a group of about 15-20 reporters. That player was Shaun Livingston.
I arrived in time to hear him talk about Rose.
“He is who he is. He’s definitely a world class athlete. He has definitely earned everything he has received,” Livingston said while wiping the sweat from his forehead. “There is definitely talent coming out of Illinois. He was freshman when I was senior. He grew up watching me take those titles, and then he got one[Rose won two].
Once Livingston was alone, I informed him that Rose looked up to him, and admired his game. Livingston smiled, and then made some additional observations about Rose and his game..
“Like I told them[the media] before, everything he’s getting right now he deserves. There’s a reason why he is where he is right now, “Livingston said. This is his second year in the league, but he has all the tools, he’s been a point guard since the eighth grade, he’s been bred to be a point guard, and obviously that process is showing right now.”
I ended my questioning by asking Livingston if he had played against Rose before.
“That was my first time actually..and he’s real, ” Livingston said while laughing.
I left the Wizards locker room, and I hung around in the common area, hoping to see and record the possible meeting between Livingston and Rose, but it never happened. Still, as a basketball fan/writer, it was nice to see two players from the same state have a genuine appreciation for one other during and after the game. And to get a story out of it too, was a definite win-win.
Video Courtesy of Brian Jackson of ComcastSportsNet Washington