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Shaun Livingston works with 7-9 year olds last summer during the Pontiac Skills Clinic at the Pontiac Community Recreation Center. A two-time NBA champion with Golden State, Livingston regularly donates time and money in Central Illinois, particularly in his hometown of Peoria.

Pantagraph file photo

It seemed ridiculous then. It seems worse now in light of who Shaun Livingston has become and all the good he is doing in his hometown.

It is not a stretch to call him a hero these days, especially following a week in Peoria described by WEEK-TV sports director Jim Mattson as Livingston’s “non-stop charity tour.”

We’ll get back to that.

First, rewind to November 2003, when Livingston was vilified throughout Illinois and even in many corners of Peoria. As his senior season at Peoria High approached, Livingston ended an intense recruiting battle by choosing Duke over Illinois and Arizona.

The Illini faithful were livid. How could he? How dare he?

Fueling the fire was that on the day prior to his announcement, Livingston wore a Brian Cook Illini jersey to school. He didn’t think anything of it. Everyone else considered it confirmation he was headed to Illinois.

Rated the top high school player in America by multiple recruiting services, the 6-foot-7 Livingston chose the top program in the country. That made sense, but also made him public enemy No. 1 in his home state.

The primary Illini fan website at the time shut down its chat room for several hours following Livingston’s announcement because of the vile things being said about him.

There are a couple of ironies in that.

One is that Livingston never attended Duke, opting to enter the 2004 NBA Draft after winning a second straight Class AA state championship. Picked No. 4 in the first round by the Los Angeles Clippers, his NBA career stands at 12 years and counting, including two championships in the past three years with Golden State.

A second irony is that Livingston is as far from an enemy of the state as one can get. Last week is not the only evidence of that, but a good place to start.

It included the following: Livingston’s annual Peoria basketball camp, a visit to the Guardian Angel residential center for boys in Morton, a trip to OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois to visit patients and their families, an inaugural bowling event and “Riding 4 a Safer Tomorrow,” a 4-mile bicycle ride.

Livingston joined riders 7 and older through Peoria’s East Bluff, with participants treated to refreshments, prizes, games and school supplies at the Glen Oak Learning Center.

All of that came a year after Livingston donated $1 million to his former grade school, Concordia Lutheran in Peoria, to help complete a $3.2 million expansion that included a new gym, a stage with a sound system for band and orchestra and a storm shelter.

He was quoted at the dedication of the expansion as saying, “It was a no-brainer for me. It’s not necessarily about the money, even though it’s a lot of money. It’s about fulfilling my responsibility.”

If you’re not a Shaun Livingston fan, what are you waiting for?

Here’s a guy who came back from a devastating knee injury suffered in his third NBA season, missed the entire next season, bounced around the NBA and at one point spent three weeks in the Developmental League.

After playing for eight NBA teams, he’s found a home with the Warriors, signing a three-year contract in 2014 and recently receiving a three-year, $24 million extension to stay with the NBA champs.

Livingston, 31, will be paid $7.7 million in the upcoming season, so yes, he is well compensated. The good news, particularly for Peoria, is his heart is as big as his bank account.

During his recent whirlwind week, he looked into Mattson’s camera and said, “Peoria is my passion. Peoria is where I’m from.”

Too many players forget the last part before the ink dries on their first contract. This one wraps his mind and long arms around it.

Here’s a bit of advice for those who painted Livingston as a villain at 18.

Look at him now.

Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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Sports Editor

Sports Editor for The Pantagraph.

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