If you ever need to borrow $25,000, Jrue Holiday is your man. It’s a running joke between his wife, Lauren, a retired midfielder for the United States women’s national team, and her former teammates: If they were in a pinch—say, a quarter-of-a-hundred-grand kind of pinch—they’d just ask her husband.
“The supportive one,” Lauren said. A $25,000 loan is a bit hyperbolic, sure.
At least, I’m assuming it is. That’s the joke.
This is the point: Jrue, I’m told, will always come through. It’s his campaign slogan, should he ever run for office.
“I like to assist people,” he told me in his backyard by the pool.
It was August and 87 degrees in Santa Rosa Valley, California, where the Holidays spend the offseason. He leaned back into the patio chair, squinted at the sun, and smirked.
“That was a pun. But no, I like to assist people.
And for the past six years, superstar Anthony Davis was his main beneficiary.
That on-court relationship is over now.
In January, Davis told the Pelicans front office that he was done. New Orleans was about halfway through another substandard season, their 22-28 record at the time serving as the roux for what would likely be another early playoff elimination (at best).
Davis requested a trade, despite having up to two years remaining on his contract. An unhappy star is the ultimate disappointment for a small-market team: That type of talent rarely comes to town voluntarily.
Former Cavaliers executive David Griffin replaced Dell Demps in the front office. Then in May, the Pelicans, one of the unluckiest franchises in NBA history, got lucky: They won the 2019 draft lottery.
Landing the first pick meant landing Zion Williamson, the Duke phenom, the gravity defier, the most highly anticipated prospect since at least Anthony Davis, and possibly since LeBron James. Suddenly, the thought of parting with Davis hurt slightly less.
(Especially since the possibility of acquiring Williamson didn’t change the big man’s desire to stay.) Fans were ready to let go.
The front office was, too: Griffin shipped Davis to the Lakers two weeks after New Orleans won the lottery. Los Angeles sent back a collection of young players, including Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram.
(He scored a career-high 21.2 points per game on 47.
2 percent shooting with five rebounds and 7.7 assists.
We just witnessed what a healthy Holiday is capable of, after a career marred by bizarre injuries. His past diagnoses sound like they were picked at random by flipping through a med student’s textbook: a stress fracture in his right tibia in 2014, a right inferior orbital wall fracture in 2016, a strained abdominal muscle in 2019, etc.
Holiday took an indefinite leave from the team through the beginning of the season to care for his wife during her delivery and postpartum brain surgery. In six seasons with the Pelicans, Holiday has missed 138 games.
That is, if he played at all. None of that applies anymore.
“And you can either stay that, or you can become that dude. I want you to want to be that dude.
” Three months later, during an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio, Griffin said that he thought Holiday—a onetime All-Star, way back in 2013—was capable of winning MVP this season. “Sometimes you need to be given permission to dominate people,” Griffin said on-air.
To have any success this season, New Orleans will need Jrue Holiday to make this about Jrue Holiday. For the first time since he arrived in Louisiana, being a little selfish is the most selfless thing he can do.
When I pulled up to the Santa Rosa Valley house, the red front door was already cracked open. The Holidays rented this property for the summer, a tan-brick-and-yellow estate with stables out back, while their own ranch was being renovated just a mile away.
They’re out in the country, or as “country” as it gets 50 minutes northwest of Los Angeles.
The area does have bucolic charm.
Only one road leads to the house, dotted by occasional yellow signs warning drivers to watch for crossing horseback riders. The Holidays refer to this as their land; residents there speak in acres, not square footage.
It’s not the kind of place you’d picture when an NBA player says he’s spending the offseason in Southern California, as many do. But the Holidays love being laid-back, love the space, love the idea of growing avocados in the back.
And a handful of pros did frequent the area this summer to train. It’s become an annual thing, walking through the Holidays’ open door.
“It’s been 10 years, so.” But his family knew the transition to Philly would be a difficult one.
So Nana moved in. Which he was grateful for, especially when it came to her cooking.
, she was up and ready to fix a meal. Was he hungry? she’d ask.
Did he want some food? “I’m like, ‘No, Nana. We can just go to sleep.
Holiday designed a dream workout facility in the backyard years ago, transforming a tennis clubhouse into a weight room. There are two such rooms, plus a tennis court and a couple of things he didn’t have to touch.
A grass field for open exercises, a hill for sprints. Ask his trainer, Mike Guevara.
It is “the most perfect training ground that anyone could have.”
Of course Davis wanted to return for another summer.
And if you really want to know, Holiday told me sitting in patio furniture by the pool, the entire fiasco didn’t affect their friendship. Holiday snacked on apple slices and nut butter while we spoke.
He dipped one and waved it around as he explained that “it’s a business.” The time had come in the interview for some habitual athlete-speak, and Holiday strung together a couple of NBA clichés like charms on a bracelet.
The second cliché: Everybody should put themselves in Anthony’s shoes. The third: He made the best decision for him.
A fourth: Why is it OK for front offices to have that kind of power, but not players? (This one the players should keep repeating until it sticks.) Then back to one, to knot and double-knot the point: It’s a business.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
I had noticed earlier the nail polish on his fingernails—light pink, and severely chipped—and asked whether it was J.T.
“We went over this yesterday,” he told his daughter, “You supposed to do my nails over.” Last December, he posted a similar picture to Instagram.
” One comment read, “kinda like people sleeping on you,” and another was an antigay response. The pressure for professional athletes to be masculine is slowly dwindling, but it’s still alive and well in the comment section on Instagram.
“I don’t care. This is more for my daughter, and it means more to her,” he said, resting his left foot on the other knee and leaning back.
“When it comes down to it, if a dude wants to wear nail polish, go for it. I mean, people talk about it, but I’m like, ‘All right.
T. isn’t skilled cosmetically across the board.
It’s pretty common to hear the term “family man” thrown around in the NBA, but it means something different in Holiday’s case. On the Google result page for “Jrue Holiday,” the search engine suggests a few shortcut questions, the ones people most often ask about Holiday.
The first of those questions is: What happened to Jrue Holiday? There are a couple of acceptable answers, though Google links only one article. So what happened to Jrue Holiday? For one, he accepted a role.
The actual article Google links to from that “what happened?” question is an AP report from September 2016.
Doctors discovered that Lauren, who was pregnant with J.T.
He shakes his head. “I sped.
I was like Speed Racer going to the airport.”
The delivery was to be induced a couple of weeks before Lauren’s due date so she could have brain surgery as soon as possible. “My biggest fear,” Lauren said, “was Jrue losing both of us.
“That never crossed my mind,” he said that day in Santa Rosa Valley.
blow bubbles to Lauren in the grass. We sat in silence for a little while.
“I always thought that, at the end of the day, I’d have both my girls with me, and we’d be living perfectly fine on our ranch.”
Because of the size of her tumor and the risk of seizure, doctors put Lauren under general anesthesia for the delivery.
For seven days, J.T.
was in the neonatal intensive care unit, and after that, Lauren had successful brain surgery. It took her weeks to walk again.
“Jrue was not only my sole caretaker, but he was also taking care of our daughter. To me, at the time, it felt like he had it all together.
“I don’t know mentally how you prepare for that or get through it. I’ve actually never even talked to him about it, like, how did you do that?”
“Jrue’s kind of a mystery,” Frank Jackson told me.
Now Griffin and Gentry insist that it’s his time, that Holiday is the best thing on a team of next best things. Holiday is no longer at the beginning of his career, like so many of his current teammates.
He’s three seasons into his third contract, long removed from the days of his rookie deal. The Pelicans expect Holiday to make another leap this season, years after most players have found their ceiling.
“Usually, [players] tend to peak, and are pretty consistent for the next three years,” Gentry said over the phone, “but I don’t think you go on an upward trend like he’s going. He’s playing like he’s 24 years old.
He had played only one year at UCLA, but showed more maturity than most young players do, and an unconditional devotion to defense, which most young players don’t. Griffin’s instinct proved correct there.
Whenever Gentry faced Holiday in the following years, he’d tell him, “We should’ve picked you!” In 2013, his fourth year in the league, Holiday became the youngest player in Philadelphia franchise history to make an All-Star team, at 22. He was on the superstar trajectory, until he became a sacrificial lamb to the Process.
The following June, the Sixers traded Holiday and their second-round pick to the Pelicans. In return, Philadelphia received New Orleans’s first-rounder in the 2013 draft, which turned into the sixth pick, which turned into Kentucky product Nerlens Noel.
But Griffin never considered trading Holiday, whom he sees as an accelerant to the Pelicans’ timeline. The GM assured Holiday during their initial conversation that staying in New Orleans would be up to the player.
“Maybe in the back of my head, it was like, ‘Man.
These dudes are young, and I am 10 years in.’ … My little brother played with Lonzo.
” Williamson is touted as the league’s next instant-cook superstar. Not long ago, Ball and Ingram were, too.
Nevertheless, Holiday recognized that this season is an enormous personal opportunity for him to return to the forefront, like his early days with the Sixers. “I haven’t been in this type of situation in a long time.
“With Lonzo Ball handling the ball some, Jrue’s going to have so many opportunities to have the ball pitched ahead, and then have him play on the wing one-on-one,” Gentry said. “Now, if that’s the case, I like our chances.
This might not have been how Holiday saw his career going when he became the youngest All-Star in Sixers history, but this is where he is now. An in-his-prime veteran on a team of up-and-comers, still somehow an up-and-comer himself, full of potential.
He was fascinated with the way Rome maintained and reinvented its historical legacy. Ruins that tourists visit even today were built from materials used in previous incarnations; spolia, which translates to “spoils” in Latin, is the Italian word for recycled stone.
After being wrecked and fractured and redistributed time and time again, those monuments were rebuilt a final time. Those were the versions history remembers.
They were the ones that lasted.
If Holiday can be the version of himself that Griffin and Gentry and many of his peers expect him to be—if he can assemble something new out of his experiences, from both on and off the court—this will be the Holiday that we remember.