In the world of professional sports, adversity lies inconspicuously around every corner, ready to strike at a naturally inopportune time, but not all barriers are created equal. While it’s not that uncommon for an athlete on any given day to be asked to overcome more than a teammate in the next locker room stall — say deal with a sudden injury or endure an ill-timed shooting slump, there’s an unlucky few who are forced to endure some truly unfortunate circumstances.
If asked to write a biography, Jrue Holiday and his legion of followers could produce an outline of the distasteful chapters in the blink of an eye. The more difficult segments of the Pelicans starting shooting guard’s story have been told ad nauseam: coping with nagging leg injuries, persevering through an unimaginable family crisis, and the failure of immediately living up to expectations after becoming an All-Star at the tender age of 22 during his final season with the Philadelphia 76ers organization.
While all of these gloomy occurrences shaped Holiday’s being, he didn't let the setbacks define his career. His constitution, family and friends didn’t allow him to give up on his dreams; an immense faith propelled him to trust the process. Staying hungry, positive and focused throughout, he developed the resilience necessary to power through hardships encountered and a mindset that didn’t understand how to quit.
“The reason why is because his mindset is different from everybody else,” said Pelicans performance consultant Mike Guevara on a recent telephone interview. “He’s a worker. He works harder than anybody else. He has the mindset to win on every single possession — which a lot of people don’t. And his family is healthy. He can put that stress to bed and focus on being the Great Jrue Holiday that he truly is.”
Once Holiday was allotted that peace of mind which most of us take for granted, the results came fast and furious, and damn were we privileged to view some very special and memorable moments!
Kevin Durant is widely regarded as the best scoring weapon in the game today, and he’s made a habit of devouring defenders, especially in crunch time situations. He averaged nearly a point a minute when games were on the line, shooting a ridiculous 56% from the field and from three-point range. But on the following possession against Holiday, he couldn’t even muster a shot attempt.
Neither could Sweet Lou. After running hard for 36 minutes of the game clock, Holiday had the wherewithal to shadow Lou Williams like a blanket wrapped around a shivering body. The latest recipient of the Sixth Man of the Year Award couldn’t find the trigger before suffering the wrath of Holiday’s shut-down defensive abilities.
Interested in pivotal offense? How about the Pelicans knocking off the Miami Heat in overtime thanks to a difficult runner from Holiday. Without securing that victory, New Orleans would have lost the first game out of the All-Star break and that fun franchise-tying 10-game winning streak would have never made history.
Possessing an ironclad mentality jumpstarted Jrue’s incredible bounce back season, but other factors paved the way for the remarkable campaign, too. Not only must professionals be blessed with athleticism honored to the winners of genetic lotteries, the hand-eye coordination of the fly-catching Mr. Myagi and the dedication of a gladiator, they also need a sprinkling of good fortune and smart planning.
With Mike G. and the Pelicans training staff devising a program that made the repeated leg stress fractures a distant memory, with Lauren clearing hurdle after hurdle to the point enough normalcy returned to the Holiday household, Jrue was able to rediscover a happier existence where basketball results were allowed to become a priority again. Not surprisingly, he enjoyed his best season to date, one that culminated in a much talked about playoff performance and an NBA All-Defensive First Team Award.
“I think that what the world witnessed on the national stage during the playoffs is exactly who Jrue truly is,” said Coach Mike G. “We had to overcome a lot of adversity off the court and on the court to finally achieve that moment in space, but he’s definitely here to stay. I think we’re just scratching the surface on what he can be and figuring his presence in the league.”
Some are hopeful Holiday’s improved play will continue. Sports Illustrated and ESPN recently ranked him as one of the thirty best players in the league; however, many still have doubts or fail to grasp the potential of the Pelicans without DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo. As Darren Erman believes though, Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday are ready to fill big shoes, but they won’t be asked to do it alone. In addition to other teammates ready to help with various aspects, a number of the players have a solid support system in place — especially Holiday.
Upon joining the New Orleans Pelicans as a consultant, Mike G’s presence paid immediate dividends. He had been around Holiday for the seven previous years, but by being around his client and friend 24/7 for their eighth, the duo was able to optimize diet, exercise, rest and other factors which boosted Holiday’s performance levels.
“It allowed me to be closer to Jrue on a day-to-day basis. And what that means is, three factors: post-practice, pre-game and post-game. It gave me the opportunity to put my hands on him more every day — which allowed me to do what I do more every day. I think that really allows us to create really good routines in terms of recovery, in terms of keeping his body prepared to play day in and day out.”
“Also, me being around more often and me being able to give input as much as possible allowed for the creation of a routine. There’s specific things we need to do on a day in and day out basis. That has to do with recovery modalities, like massage, like ice-packs, like cyro chambers, stretching. This also has to do with how we cool down after the game. After every single game, we cool down with some type of massage, some type of flush, some type of stretch, not to mention the nutrition that follows.”
Almost thirty years ago, Michael Jordan sought out Tim Grover to help the Airness get the most he could out of his body while taking every precaution known to keep it running smoothly. That started an important trend in the NBA: personal trainers, nutritionists and doctors of varying expertise began to enter the arena to help players get a leg up on the competition. Despite apparent advantages, the vast majority within the league have not been as committed as one would think or hope.
“I think that as you mature your willing to become more educated,” said Mike G. “His willingness to learn more about nutrition. His willingness to learn more about recovery. And create routines and habits is exactly what allowed him to become who he is right now. We look at food as not just food and energy but look at it as medicine. If you’re sick, you can use food to beat sickness. If you’re sore, you can use food to expedite the recovery from soreness. The ablility to educate himself and learn what, when and how to eat and what not to eat has played a major role in his ability to recover so quickly and play at a high level for the majority of the season.”
Following Game 5’s loss to the Golden State Warriors, Mike G. informed Kumar and the rest of us of a little secret: Jrue Holiday had more left in the tank after playing more than 46 of the 48 minutes. During the cool down portion of that final game of the 2017-18 season, Holiday responded to a question on how he feels, “Mike G, I feel like I could keep going.”
After running around for 2927 regular season minutes and then 348 super high-intensity playoff minutes, Holiday still had more to give. Can there be a more telling sign about the success of training regimen, diet and all other attributes of a professional athlete’s program?
“So hitting the bullseye on these types of things every single day, you’re going to put your body into a space that is able to perform consistently,” said Mike G. “I feel like that allowed him to lead the league or be second in miles traveled, be able to play First Team All-Defense and be a scorer when his team needed him.”
Not only did Jrue Holiday dominate Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in a series that no one outside of New Orleans gave the team a chance to beat Portland and then hold his own against Kevin Durant and the rest of the Champion Golden State Warriors, a fiery on-the-court personality was born overnight.
The disrespect here Jrue Holiday POINTS AT NURKIC. STOP THIS GAME. pic.twitter.com/9Px4A0zluU— Sherwob Holmes (@World_Wide_Wob) April 20, 2018
Call it arrogance, cockiness, or pompous behavior, I don’t care, but it was love at first sight. To see Jrue Holiday display such an assertive attitude and exhibit extreme confidence elevated his game to another level, one the world never thought possible. Averages of 27.8 points, 6.5 assists and 4.0 against the Trail Blazers and then 20.4 points, 6.2 assists and 7.0 rebounds against the Warriors do not tell lies. Holiday unlocked something deep within himself, and from my interview with Coach Mike G, it sounds like it’s here to stay.
“I think the mind dictates everything — that can be bad or good in a lot of cases,” stated Mike G. “The type of confidence that Jrue has right now is something that I’ve never seen before from him. So, I’m not going to make any type of assumptions or predictions, but the trend has been very, very clear this summer. He’s confident. He’s excited. He’s hungry. It seems as though the springboard has been set, he’s taken a big leap off onto the springboard and is now free flying up. I don’t know if that is going to change at all. I’m very excited to see what’s going to happen this season, to say the least.”
Five years ago, I asked naysayers to accept the Jrue Holiday Era. Three years ago, I presented evidence of a fantastic two-way player hiding amid all of the injuries. One year ago, I asked he receive a pass after being hampered by things beyond his control. Now, the excuses should no longer be necessary.
“He’s 28 years old, in the pinnacle of his physical potential, and I think that’s going to transpire into something even greater.” — Mike G.
Too many haven’t fully bought in, some see him repeating the achievements of last season, but what if...what if...his ascension isn’t complete???
We could very well be less than a month away of reveling in the glory of NBA star Jrue Holiday — wouldn’t that make for the most gratifying chapter!