That Time I Played Shaun Livingston In A Game Of Dodgeball

Mason Plumlee’s championship team in yellow. (Brooklyn Nets Twitter)

We played two games, and thank goodness, because I didn’t even get a shot at Shaun in the first one. I got grazed by an early ball from one of the Irrelevants and knocked out.

But in Game 2, I found my stride. I was zoned in on the game and locked on Livingston. I caught two balls thrown my way, ensuring that the Irrelevants would be gone. I knocked another two opponents out, plowing the road. If I wanted my shot at Shaun, who was casually hanging in back as usual, I couldn’t have any distractions.

(Just for the record.)

Sure enough, near the end it was myself and two other players against Shaun Livingston himself. Then Shaun knocked one of my teammates out. Then he knocked the other out. This was it. This was my chance. It was one-on-one, mano-a-mano, tête-à-tête, journalist/blogger/editor/whatever my title is this week vs. professional basketball player.

This is what I was waiting for.

I definitely, um, relished the moment. If I played sports professionally, everyone would hate me. And dodgeball? This is the silliest sport of all, and I ate it up. Jay-Z was playing and I rapped along, head nodding. I danced back and forth, using the thirty seconds of capoeira Zandile once taught me as inspiration. I beckoned to the crowd. I hung low and held my chin up. I even taunted. I beckoned at Shaun with my fingers, egging him on to try to get me out, mouthing “bring it on.” I had no mercy and no conscience.

Repeat: I taunted a professional athlete at a charity event. I am Rasheed Wallace.

My scouting report was useless now. With no one to protect him, or me, it was Iso-Joe dodgeball, Livingston’s weakness. No tricks, no secrets, just dodgeball. So we dodged, ducked, dipped, dove, and dodged. We danced around each other, dodgeballs in hand, for what felt like an eternity. I aimed square at his chest while he held two balls, hoping he wouldn’t react in time. He harmlessly knocked my target away. He threw once at me, missing to the left. He threw again, and I dodged to the right. I aimed low, assuming it was less likely that he’d catch a low pass. (His gruesome injury history? The last thing on my mind. I’m a terrible person.)

At that moment, my job didn’t matter. His job didn’t matter. I was locked in a battle for my pride with NBA point guard Shaun Livingston, and I was determined to destroy him and leave vaingloriously.

And then it happened. I wound up, aimed, and fired with every bit of strength my suddenly deadened left arm could muster. My low fastball fell well to the left. As I finished my windup, Shaun saw an opening, and threw back. He caught me on my right side as I tried to get out of the way, and the ball bounced away harmlessly, the cruelest taunt of all.

I was defeated.

Shaun Livingston
Shaun Livingston, relishing his victory over me. (Brooklyn Nets Twitter)

I was also pissed. I wanted my moment, I wanted to win, and I’d let myself down. I cursed as I walked away, forgetting Billy King’s kids were right there. (Sorry Billy, and sorry Billy’s kids.) After spitting what I won’t repeat, I said without thinking, “I would’ve won if that was Stephen Graham.”

And maybe that’s why I was mad: For the first 22 years of my life, I was conditioned to believe the Nets were lovable losers, erratically human despite their athletic superpowers. I couldn’t imagine a scenario where I didn’t knock out a Nets player, because I’m not used to them as winners yet.

But here I was, in a new sweat-soaked t-shirt, with no irrational pride to show for it. These are the Evil Empire Nets, flush with small forwards that refuse to acknowledge rivals for back-page juice and backup point guards that will get BK All Day tattoos in unspecified locations and gleefully knock you on your ass with a plush purple ball and a smile on their face.

And even though it hurts your pride, as a fan that’s what you want. Right?

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