Being around SamCassell, says his callow Los Angeles Clippers teammate Shaun Livingston, islike being at a never-ending family reunion. "You know those oldgrandfathers and uncles who have a story for everything?" says Livingston."That's Sam. Just when I thought I've heard every story, he comes up withanother one." ¬∂ One of the best stories of the Clippers' season has beenthe cross-generational point guard tandem of Cassell--36, by way of San Jacinto(Texas) College, Florida State and six NBA teams before the Clippers--and thesecond-year phenom Livingston, 20, straight out of Peoria (Ill.) Central High.In a must-win Game 4 on Sunday at Staples Center, Cassell laid a near tripledouble on the Suns (28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists), while Livingston (11points, five rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots and zero turnovers)played like a seasoned vet in the Clippers' 114-107 victory. For roughly 27minutes on Sunday, Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy used Cassell and Livingstontogether, playing the youngster at the point and the 6'3" veteran at thetwo, where he frequently schools taller defenders with his inimitableherky-jerky style, which involves pump fakes, quick releases, fadeaways,post-ups and a fair amount of lowbrow opera. After his shot-clock-beating,slingshot three that sealed Game 4, Cassell cantered downcourt, all the whilecupping his hands below his groin area to suggest that he has a large set of... well, let's interpret it this way: I have a willingness to take big shotsand the ability to make them. "I've picked up some moves from other playersaround the league, but that one," he says of his self-loving gesture,"that's all mine."
Given thatCassell and Livingston share a position, one might expect a tutor-tyro bondbetween the two. There is, however, no such relationship. In fact, it'ssometimes easy to forget which player is the vet and which is the youngster,and not just because Livingston is already an accomplished defender whileCassell, for all his wiles, can't guard a traffic pylon. The Clips draftedLivingston not only for his raw talent but also for his maturity and his highbasketball IQ. Early in the second quarter of Game 4, Clippers forward CoreyMaggette went up for a shot but, seeing that he couldn't get it off underpressure, dropped the ball. Livingston had the presence of mind to scoop it up,avoid a violation and nail a three-pointer that just beat the shot clock.
Then there arethe stylistic differences. Livingston is about as likely to adapt Cassell'scarefree, occasionally reckless game as he is to trade in his braids forCassell's bald pate. "What Sam does is kind of hard to duplicate," saysLivingston. "It works for him, but it wouldn't necessarily work forme."
What also doesn'talways work for some of the Clippers is Cassell's on-court lecturing, which isspontaneous, strident and often profane. On more than one occasion during thefirst three games of the series, Cassell could be heard yelling, "Damn,Kaman!" at center Chris Kaman. Cassell sees nothing wrong with it. "Iyell at them, and it's fine when they yell back at me," he says."That's what teammates are supposed to do." Power forward Elton Brand,the franchise rock, who plays the role of Henry V to Cassell's rollickingFalstaff, doesn't always agree. "I've told him at times, 'Sam, you have totake it easy, or we're going to lose some of these young guys,'" saysBrand.
Kaman cops tobeing one of those youngsters who is bothered by the harangues. "It gets tome once in a while," he says. "You don't really have time to argue withhim on the court if he's wrong. But, the thing is, you always know that he hasa good heart and he's a good person and he only wants what's best for the team.So that makes it O.K."
Just as it's O.K.to listen to the Sammy stories, many of which come from his hard-scrabbleboyhood in Baltimore. One of his standards has a policeman calling him over andpulling back the cover on a dead body lying on the sidewalk. "If you don'tstop hanging out on street corners," Cassell recalls the cop telling him,"this could be you."
Livingston'sheard that one. "You can't always tell whether Sam's stories are true,"he says. "But it's fun hearing them." Then he smiles slyly. "Mostof the time, anyway."
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Photographs by John W. McDonough
¬†CHANGING OF THE GUARD
With his flair for the dramatic Cassell owns the Clippers' stage, butLivingston (inset) is the best pure point guard L.A. has seen sinceMagic.