A little girl walked up and stared at Jrue Holiday on Thursday morning.
“How tall are you?” she inquired.
Holiday replied, “6-4 on a good day.”
Her eyes grew wide at his response as she said “wow” and walked away.
To her, 6-foot-4 sounded larger than life, which in a way Holiday still is around here.
Holiday, you see, hasn’t worn a New Orleans Pelicans jersey in two years. But that hasn’t stopped him from giving back to the city that he and his wife Lauren called home for seven years.
Why does he still do it?
Well, Holiday had a better question for me.
“Why not?” he asked. “Who else is going to do it? This city embraced me and my family. The only right thing to do is to give back. Why not do that for the kids?”
Jrue and Lauren were at the New Orleans East campus of the nonprofit Excite All Stars, an after-school facility and summer camp that focuses on the arts, academics and athletics. It’s one of the organizations the Holidays awarded grants to as part of their JLH Foundation. New Orleans is one of four cities where the Holidays provide grants through their foundation that started after the COVID pandemic started. The other three cities are Los Angeles (Jrue’s hometown), Indianapolis (Lauren’s hometown) and Milwaukee, the city Holiday was traded to from the Pelicans in 2020.
New Orleans is no longer home for the Holidays, but in a way it always will be.
“There is some form of comfort and just a feeling of home when we come here,” Holiday said. “Some of it is probably because of all we went through. But I also feel like this is a city that you have to love.
“I spent almost a decade here. I have a kid who was born here. We had health scares here. I went through a lot in my career here, and the city has had my back the whole way. So it’s only right for me to continue to come here and help support the city.”
It’s often said that if you love New Orleans, it will love you back.
Holiday knows that all too well. His love for the city — coupled with the selfless way he played on the court — helped make him the most beloved player in franchise history. He may not have had the accolades of more heralded New Orleans basketball stars such as Chris Paul and Holiday’s former running mate Anthony Davis, but there isn’t a more popular player in franchise history. You’ll never hear a single boo when Holiday steps on the court as a visitor at the Smoothie King Center.
And you’ll never hear Holiday utter anything negative about New Orleans. It’s the city he spent most of his career after being traded from the Philadelphia 76ers in 2013. He battled some injuries early on, then dealt with the health issues with his wife. Lauren was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016 while pregnant with their first child. Jrue took some time away from basketball to spend with his wife.
“Everybody embraced us so much, even before the health issues,” Lauren said. “When we first got to New Orleans, it felt like a family. Then after the brain tumor and everything, it just felt like the whole city rallied behind us and they rallied behind Jrue. So you can’t ever forget that. So this is always going to be home for us.”
Although their 5-year-old daughter JT (short for Jrue Tyler) spent only three years in New Orleans, the city still holds a special place in her heart, too. She says she doesn’t remember dribbling a basketball on the court with her dad during pre-game of Pelicans games, but she does remember the sno-balls. It was the first thing she requested when they arrived in New Orleans this week.
JT and her little brother Hendrix accompanied their parents Thursday at the Excite Camp as part of the Wacky Olympics. They watched their parents play basketball and soccer with the kids. It’s the two sports the Holidays have won Olympic gold medals in. Lauren won soccer gold in 2008 and 2012. Jrue won a basketball gold medal last summer, shortly after helping the Milwaukee Bucks win an NBA title.
“It was crazy,” Holiday said. “At the end of it, I was exhausted and I felt like I could retire. I got a ring and you appreciate just going through what it takes to get to that point. An 82-game season, then being down 2-0 twice in the playoffs. It was a lot, emotionally and physically.
“At the end of it, I was super blessed and it’s a great feeling. But now you just want to chase it again.”
The Bucks fell short of their repeat bid last season, falling to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the second round. Holiday was focused on his own playoff run, but he did pay attention to the Pelicans’ first-round series against the Phoenix Suns. He had a rooting interest on both sides. One was his former team, while the Suns are the team his youngest brother Aaron plays for.
He likes what he has seen in his former team and isn’t surprised by the resurgence, especially considering who is now coaching the team. Holiday and Pelicans coach Willie Green played one season together in Philadelphia. It was Holiday’s rookie season and Green’s last year in Philadelphia.
“Willie was really scrappy,” Holiday recalls. “You can see that just by how the Pelicans are playing with him as their coach. They are super scrappy, not afraid of anybody. That’s how Willie was when I played with him.”
Thursday’s stop in New Orleans East was just one of several for the Holidays on this trip to New Orleans. They also visited other organizations, including the new Son of a Saint building that they donated. Other stops were at Covenant House, STEM Nola and Operation Restoration.
New Orleans is a city the Holidays knew was important when they started their foundation. Their love for the city grew deep in their seven years here.
“When we started the JLH Foundation, New Orleans was always a huge push for us because we witnessed the discrepancies and racial disparities in Louisiana,” Lauren said. “So it was really important for us to put our money where our mouth is. It’s important for us to show up for a city that showed up for us.”
Two years later, Jrue Holiday is still showing up.