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How Shaun Livingston went from the Harvard classroom to the Warriors front office

When Shaun Livingston stepped onto the Harvard Business School campus in Boston this spring, his heart raced, his breath shortened and he grew anxious.

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“I was super, super, super nervous,” said Livingston, who played five years and won three championships with the Warriors from 2014 to 2019. “More than going to the Finals. It was just like, ‘OK, no experience, no arena, you’re working again.’”

After calling himself an NBA player for 15 years, Livingston since retiring last summer has been a student and, now, part of the Warriors’ front office. This week, Livingston, 35, was named the team’s director of player affairs and engagement.

Having recently helped the Warriors to five straight NBA Finals as a core part of the rotation and graduating from a Harvard course focused on teaching professional athletes to build their brands, Livingston can be a well of experience for Golden State’s young players.

In his “hybrid role,” Livingston will contribute to the different departments of basketball operations — including scouting, personnel and more — while also helping guide Warriors players off the court and teaching the finer points of the game to a team coming off a league-worst 15-50 season.

Eventually, Livingston’s duties will shift from the practice court more to the front office. He will lean on current members to teach him the intricacies of the different departments, and they will lean on him for his Xs-and-Os expertise.

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“I always thought I would have a good feel in the basketball office,” he said.

Livingston began thinking of his post-playing career and, specifically, of a role in an NBA front office when he turned 30. When the Warriors opted not to re-sign him after the 2019 season, he retired. He spent the next year with his family, reflecting and focusing on personal growth.

That led him to a Harvard Business School course called “The Business of Entertainment, Media, and Sports.” It is designed to help professional athletes and entertainers understand the businesses they fuel. Because he was drafted out of Illinois’ Peoria Central High School in 2004, it would be his first college experience.

Before the coronavirus pandemic forced college campuses across the country to shut down, Livingston spent a handful of days in the Harvard classroom along with former NBA player and friend Jameer Nelson, as well as professional soccer, football and baseball players before the class was moved online.

Coursework included learning about endorsement deals, brand building and case studies on professional athletes such as future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade who, in part due to partnerships with Li Ning, Gatorade and Budweiser, Forbes recently estimated makes upwards of $14 million per year in endorsements.

Livingston, who made nearly $58 million in his playing career, absorbed the material. The course was graded “pass” or “fail.” He passed.

Soon, he will trade the classroom for the hardwood and again find himself within his comfort zone of basketball arenas — though the learning has just begun.

“I know I have a ways to go starting out,” said Livingston, who aims to one day be an NBA general manager. “Just being able to learn the ins and outs from the ground-floor up.”

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