New Orleans is a checkerboard of cultures, Cajun and Creole, white and black, bawdy and buttoned-down. Block by block, the Big Easy offers up lessons, and its instruction was never lost on Randy Livingston, now a freshman point guard at LSU. Growing up as the son of a cop and a hospital clerk, Livingston became a master of adjusting on the run, whether as the only black in his class at a private school that he carried to three consecutive state titles or as a play-maker who conducts the fast break with the precognition of his idol, Magic Johnson.
This season Livingston is making another adjustment, from the sidelines to center stage. On July 4, 1993, only two months after receiving the Naismith Award as the national high school player of the year, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while playing in a pickup game. The 6'4", 195-pound Livingston is back now, ready to team with 6'5" sophomore Ronnie Henderson in what was deemed a dream-baby backcourt before Livingston was laid low.
The two phenoms have only joined forces once before, at Magic's 1993 Roundball Classic for high school seniors in Detroit. In one sequence Henderson saved the ball and sent a behind-the-back pass to Livingston, who took off downcourt. Livingston rose up as if to dunk, only to twist instead so that his back was to the basket, kissing an over-the-head pass off the glass that Henderson scooped on the fly and slammed home.
Livingston became a blue-chipper at Isidore Newman High, an uptown academy far from the Callioupe Projects where he grew up. "The environment at Newman is more sheltered, but it's important to see both worlds," he says. "Coming from where I come from and going there, I feel I can relate to almost any type of person."
Newman is hardly a hoops launching pad; in his 22 years there, Billy Fitzgerald has coached only three future Division I players. But Livingston racked up 30 points a game and radiated confidence. After fouling out of his last title game with four minutes to play, he got his teammates together and assured them they would not lose. They didn't. "To say Randy carried us doesn't even begin to touch the surface of what he did," Fitzgerald says.
That spectacular pass in Magic's all-star game notwithstanding, Livingston usually plays with an economy and grace of a bygone era. Says LSU coach Dale Brown, "There's a purity to the way Randy plays—no flares, no balloons, no 21-gun salutes. You realize just how ugly the game has gotten when you watch him."
LSU's guard, back from a knee injury, still has the magic of his idol.