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New Orleans was home: Jrue and Lauren Holiday discuss hardship of leaving but are excited to team with Giannis and Bucks

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“I just feel like New Orleans will always have a piece of our heart.” — Lauren Holiday

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2019 Las Vegas Summer League - Day 2 Photo by Cassy Athena/Getty Images

Since LeBron James’ “The Decision” in the summer of 2010, the nature in which fans and media consume the NBA has been forever changed. Front offices now approach the offseason similar to contestants on Supermarket Sweep, frantically running down aisles and grabbing what they can while power-wielding superstars methodically and patiently plot their future years ahead of their impending free agency.

For some athletes, taking ownership over that process can breed both happiness and success as it did for Anthony Davis. For Lauren Holiday though, being ‘home’ was enough on its own.

“I told Jrue, this is me just being completely honest,” Lauren Holiday said. “New Orleans was home. We were there for seven years. We have lifelong friends there, people who supported us through our worst times. For me to wrap my head around that was a lot harder.”

The trade with Milwaukee was largely agreed upon close to midnight on the east coast following the end of moratorium. For second-time parents Jrue and Lauren, it was but 8:37 p.m. in California as they received the news while in the comfort of their own bed, perhaps resting after a rigorous day of chasing their four-year-old daughter, Jrue Tyler, and nursing their two-week-old baby boy, Hendricks.

“We were in bed,” Jrue Holiday said. “We were in California. When we found out, we were really excited knowing that we were going to a team that has established themselves as one of the best.”

The Milwaukee Bucks posted an impressive 60-win season in 2018-19 but faltered against Kawhi Leonard and the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. This past season witnessed a higher winning percentage — 56 wins in 73 games; however, championship aspirations were wiped out more painfully. A surprising run by the Miami Heat coupled with a Giannis Antetokounmpo ankle injury knocked the Bucks out in the second round, ultimately ending what could have presented a greater challenge to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Bubble Finals.

Following the postseason disappointments and with Giannis’ impending free agency at the forefront of conversations across the league, Milwaukee was forced to push all of its chips into the center of the table, but they walked away with one of the most undervalued two-way veterans in the league. Jrue Holiday came at no slight cost to them as general manger Jon Horst had to part with two integral contributors in Eric Bledsoe and George Hill in addition to three first round picks and rights to swap in two future drafts.

“That made me love Milwaukee right away,” Lauren said. “I feel like Jrue has been undervalued. Obviously, I’m his wife so I think the world of him, but I feel like he’s been undervalued in the league: his skill, what he offers to a team, leadership wise in the locker room. I feel like Jrue truly invests in people. He has a heart for people and has a very loyal attitude towards an organization. And then on the court speaks for itself. It felt good for a team to show him how valued he is.”

“I’m not usually the type to be excited about somebody trying to woo me, but it felt good,” Jrue said in reference to what the Bucks gave up to acquire him. “It felt good to see how much they respect and value me.”

The Holiday family couldn’t hide their excitement for an upcoming season bound to place Jrue in position to reach the playoffs for just the fifth time in what will be his 12th NBA season. After reaching a conference semifinals in just his third campaign, he’d fail to do so again until his ninth (2017-18) and has not reached the playoffs since.

What Holiday is bringing to the Bucks is two-fold: a two-time finisher on the All-Defensive team, whose versatility offers the capablilty of defending all five positions when needed, and one of the most all-around offensive contributors in the game today. Jrue’s scoring and playmaking talents have stood out in the league over the past five seasons, joining LeBron, Chris Paul, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and Kyle Lowry as the only players to accrue 6,000 points and 2,000 assists during that time span.

While fans have been salivating over the addition of Holiday to two-time MVP and DPOY Giannis, Khris Middleton and the NBA’s best defense in each of the past two seasons, there may be no one more excited than Jrue himself.

“I’m really excited,” Jrue said as he spoke of Giannis. “Just going up against him, guarding him, seeing him go up against Anthony has been super exciting. Now it’s a new chapter where I get to play with this guy who’s the (two-time) MVP. He does everything. I don’t know what he can’t do. I’m here to help, I’m here to support, but I’m also here to win.”

The Holidays are bringing more than an elite, two-way talent and a proverbial step closer to championship contention. Jrue and Lauren will add a warmth and kindness to the region, likely soon breeding goodwill throughout Milwaukee.

New Orleans and several other areas across the country will never forget their most recent generous donation. For those who missed the news, Jrue chose to forego over $5 million in ‘bubble’ salary in order to establish a social justice and economic fund that’s to benefit communities in Los Angeles, Indianapolis and New Orleans.

“Honestly, when it came down to it, it was me and my wife talking about what we could do to kind of further this movement and progression and being able to help out our community and just being able to help,” Jrue Holiday told ESPN.

The Holiday family also contributed to their New Orleans community in numerous other instances, usually as blind donors, which was born out of a deep-rooted appreciation and passion for their home.

“When I was going through the brain tumor, all of the people that worked at the Smoothie King Center sent Jrue a message,” Lauren said. “Jrue showed it to me. It meant a lot. The people of the Smoothie King Center, the people who worked there, I know them all by name. I know their wives’ names, their kid’s names. There was just a part of knowing them, and them hugging me and always trying to help in whatever way they could. That was really special.”

It wasn’t just the staff that touched their hearts. The love for their locality went straight down to their direct neighbors, some of whom will leave Lauren with her fondest memories of the Crescent City.

“We had wonderful, wonderful neighbors,” Lauren said. “Jrue and I couldn’t have asked for better people to be surrounding us. We live next to two little boys. They would run through our front door and they would wake up Jrue from his nap on game days. I remember him specifically carrying one by one leg and the other by the other leg down the stairs after waking him up. Those are the memories we’ll always keep.”

With life now changing quickly — as it often does for professional athletes, the 2020-21 season is upon us. In one of the rarest offseasons in history thanks to the challenges of COVID-19, Jrue’s short turnaround from action in the bubble to training camp fast forwarded at a rate that could have left many unprepared.

For one of the hardest workers in the NBA, that isn’t going to be the case.

“I’m ready, to be completely honest,” Jrue confidently expressed. “Just a couple of travel days getting here and starting to work out, and some restrictions getting into the gym and wishing I had a Tonal here, but leading up to training camp, I was ready. I was prepared to go out there and get this thing going.”

Jrue’s offseason reliance has mainly been on his long-time trainer and friend Mike Guevara, who also helps to challenge and push Lauren. There are likely few couples who can boast greater consistency and durability as athletes. But with the dangers of coronavirus lurking around every corner, the Holidays have been shut out from many of the fitness pleasures they previously enjoyed. Enter Tonal.

“My least favorite thing is coming up with my own workout,” Lauren said. “I’d rather run. It’s mindless. It’s easy. So Tonal worked for me. It has a digital weight system. It remembers how much I lift each time. I can go in, be mindless and use one of the trainers, or do a specific workout I want to do.”

Even at the height of her pregnancy, Lauren remained steadfast in using the Tonal system — right up until the day before labor. After facing an unfathomable burden during her first pregnancy, a ‘normal’ pregnancy that allowed for consistent workouts was a welcome change.

“I worked out until the day before Hendricks, our son, was born,” Lauren confessed with relief. “I wasn’t worried every single day of our life. It was such a lighter pregnancy. I mean, I gained ten more pounds, but emotionally it was lighter. We could celebrate without being fearful.”

The ‘all-in-one’ machine wasn’t just for Lauren, however. Jrue used it to stay in great shape and he was surprised by his level of success.

“When Lauren brought it to me, I doubted it,” Jrue said with candor. “I thought it would be {the same as everything else}. When we got it, man, I was wrong. She was right. It was just a surprise and refreshing to see how different it was. It’s been really cool. It’s not hard for me to say my wife is right, but she’s right.”

Holiday may only be 30 years old, but he’s already in the top 35 among active NBA players in regular season minutes played, ahead of notables such as JJ Redick, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Damian Lillard, Paul George and Goran Dragic. Keeping in tip-top shape is the best way for Holiday to ensure another lucrative contract awaits in the near future; however, there’s time to prove his worth once more, especially in light of his family’s recent move north to Milwaukee.

“I tell my husband this all the time, ‘I need a week,’” Lauren said. “You gotta give me a week to process it, get the logistics of it and then I’ll be on board. I just feel like New Orleans will always have a piece of our heart. Now we’re hoping to make Milwaukee home the same way we did New Orleans.”

Take good care of the Holidays, Bucks fans. You’re going to soon fall in love with the whole family.

*****

Thanks to the Holiday family for their time and to Tonal for this interview.

If you like what you’ve read, be sure to download the entire conversation at the link below.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @PrestonEllis.