Only 24 players become NBA All-Stars each year – five starters selected by fans and seven reserves chosen by coaches in each conference. Just five players make the NBA All-Defensive First Team. And only two families have three brothers in the NBA. 28-year-old New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday has achieved this most unlikely three-peat.
Jrue is just as much of a warrior off the court, if not more so. He battled recurring leg injuries for three years, including a fractured fibula that he hurt again a few games after his return to the hardwood. But his hardest test was yet to come. In 2016, Jrue’s wife Lauren, a former member of the women’s US national soccer team, was diagnosed with a brain tumor while pregnant with the couple’s first child. The tumor was deemed inoperable until after she gave birth, making for a more anxious pregnancy than most people can even imagine.
Jrue made the courageous decision to take an indefinite leave of absence to take care of Lauren, even though he was in a contract year. His decision was validated when the Holidays welcomed daughter Jrue Tyler into the world in September 2016 and Lauren’s operation was successful (she’s now cancer-free). Jrue was also rewarded by the Pelicans, who gave him a five-year, $150 million extension the following summer. Halfway through his 10th season in the league, Jrue is playing better than ever, with career-high averages in points (20.8), assists (8.2), rebounds (4.6), and steals (1.7). We caught up with our newest Momentous athlete as he returned from a three game road trip to talk persistence, perspective, and, fittingly for a native Californian, the ins and outs of In-N-Out Burger.
“After practice and games I always have a shake now - it's a crucial part of my cool-down routine.”
How have your eating habits changed since you were drafted?
When I first came into the NBA I didn’t care about what I ate because my body would let me get away with anything. Even though my grandmother stayed with me and prepared home-cooked meals, I’d work out, go to Taco Bell, shoot around, go to McDonald’s, hang out late with my friends. And because I was young it didn’t seem to matter. But now I’ve been in the league for almost 10 years, I can’t do that anymore. Some games I play 40-plus minutes and have to go out and do it again the following night. Improving my nutrition has been a game changer for me and Momentous is a big part of that. Instead of being sluggish in the morning, I get up with lots of energy and can bounce back strong for a workout, practice, and the next game.
How has your family’s approach to nutrition evolved?
When we found out about Lauren’s brain tumor, she already had pretty good nutrition. But we started looking into the keto diet and researching foods that are good for the brain, like fish, berries, and avocados. She wanted to not only do the best to prepare for and help her recover from her surgery, but also give our daughter foods that are beneficial.
You won an NBA Cares monthly award last season and you and Lauren run camps together. Why is it important to you to give back to your community in New Orleans?
It’s an honor to be blessed enough to be able to give to others. Lauren and I just try to do as much as our busy schedule allows. I particularly like working with children, perhaps because I still feel like a big kid myself. Also, having our daughter has really warmed my heart. Being a father and having other kids look up to me makes me want to always do the right thing. Lots of kids dream of becoming a professional athlete, and it feels good to give them hope that it’s possible, no matter where you come from or what your background is. Giving your time and helping out when people need it the most shows that you care about them.
You were named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team. What attitude do you try to bring when you’re defending one of the best players in the league?
Growing up playing against my brothers, I hated being scored on from a young age. When someone crosses you over or tries to dunk on you, it’s just disrespectful. I took it personally and decided I was going to be aggressive defensively on every possession. These days it’s hard to completely shut down a great scorer like James [Harden], Kevin [Durant], or Steph [Curry] who can easily go for 40 or 50, but I try to at least disrupt them. My mentality is, “I'm going to stop you from scoring on me and then the next time down, I'm going to score on you.” It definitely breaks guys down.
How do you continue eating clean while you’re on the road?
I think that when she played for the US National Team, Lauren had it easier with nutrition. They’d eat certain meals and have specific snacks in the training room for the whole squad. But in the NBA you have a lot more choice, which isn’t always a good thing. Growing up in California, I love In-N-Out and when we were in Oakland to play the Warriors last week, I wanted to get a burger so badly. After the game I was exhausted after playing more than 40 minutes on back to back nights, so I felt like I’d earned it. But a teammate told me, “Don’t do it, man. It’ll make you feel terrible tomorrow.” I replied that I could just order one, take a bite, and throw the rest away, but he said, “You know you won’t – you’ll eat the whole thing.” That burger sounded so much better than the salmon, rice, and broccoli we had prepared for us, but my teammate convinced me not to get it because he knew it wouldn’t do me any good. Sometimes you’re strong enough on your own, but when you’re worn down you need to be around people like that who will keep you accountable and help you make better choices.
You’ve battled persistent leg injuries over the years, including breaking your fibula. What kept you motivated to come back to basketball despite all the setbacks?
I'm a Christian athlete who has faith in Jesus Christ. So when I encounter circumstances over which I have no control, I believe and have peace. I also felt like I had so much more left to prove. I've always played hard and I've played my heart out. I know that when a lot of guys get injured they think, “Can I still hoop?" or “Can I still perform the same way I did before the surgery?” Being hurt for close to three years, I was waging this battle inside myself, wondering if I could still do this. I was determined to prove to other people that I wasn’t done yet. And I still think I’ve got a lot left in the tank.
How does your lifting routine vary between the season and your summer break?
During the summer I work really hard with my trainer Mike G., going at it almost every day. He likes to keep things fresh with unusual exercises and workouts. Sometimes it feels like he comes up with something while he’s sitting in a coffee shop and tests it out on me! There’s some Olympic lifting and explosive movements with weighted resistance. We’ll go hard Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday might be a pool day so we can do some unloaded stuff, Thursday we’ll go hard again, and Friday maybe we’ll go to a trampoline park or he’ll have a boxing trainer come in – something fun and unusual.
During the season I lift a lot less because I play a lot of minutes and traveling a lot and that puts so much strain on my body. But we’ll still try to get in at least one intense session in the weight room each week. I don’t go that heavy – it’s just to maintain my strength.
What part does nutrition play in recovering from these hard lifting sessions, practices, and games?
During the summer, I worked out at my house and right afterwards I’d drink a shake. Momentous made me feel good, but the real difference maker was the flavor. There are a lot of products out there that help you recover quickly, but the taste of Momentous ArcFire Veracruz Vanilla was better than the rest. Even when I mixed it with strawberries and mango or other fruit, it still tasted good to me. After practice and games I always have a Momentous shake now – it’s a crucial part of my cool-down routine that helps me wake up the next morning feeling ready to go out and give my best again.
Which other recovery techniques do you use?
Hydration is a big thing for me, and after the game I try to get a quick stretching session in before going home or, if we’re playing an away game, before I get on the plane. The next morning, I spend about an hour with Mike G. before practice. We do some mobility work and a bit of massage, and he might use the Raptor, Theragun, or Hypervolt to loosen me up.
Your brothers Aaron and Justin are also in the NBA. What does that mean to you?
When we were younger, it was all about bragging rights so I never wanted to lose to them. But now I’m so proud of what they’ve achieved, and that we’re all in the league together. I think back to all the sacrifices we made, like not going to birthday parties or out with friends because we were practicing and playing. We took it so seriously that we’d get in trouble for fighting while we were playing one-on-one or two-on-two. When I was at UCLA and then went to the NBA, Justin was in college and so we’d do all the same workouts. Aaron was still in middle school then, so we set the example of what it’d take to get to this level. Once he got older he joined in, too, and we’d all go at it. We were rewarded for that hard work and God was in our favor. Sometimes I still get nervous playing against my brothers because I want them to do well, but then I also want to kick their asses, so it's a bit of a battle.
What has your wife, Lauren, taught you about sports and life?
She was one of the two or three best soccer players in the world and showed me what it’s like to be a true professional. Lauren also made me realize how important it is for me to take care of myself, and to prepare for games mentally as well as physically. When I was young, I would goof off a lot and everything was kind of fun. But seeing how serious she was, that kind of flipped a switch in my head. It’s OK to have fun sometimes, but there comes a time where you have to be serious and prepare for the battle ahead. Lauren has always been a leader as well. Part of this is having the courage to tell things like they are. She can be blunt but her brutal honesty comes from a place of love. She has helped me become a leader of my team, and even though she’s the boss in our house, she empowers me to take on certain things.
Lauren also showed me how to be strong in all situations. When she had a brain tumor and was pregnant at the same time it was so much to handle, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. Then I took time off from the team to be with her when I was going to be a free agent that next summer. Everything was up in the air. But she brought peace of mind with how she approached each day, and now I carry that same peace with me everywhere I go. She’s the strongest person I’ve ever met.
Speaking of learning life lessons, what did Lauren’s successful battle with cancer show you?
It made me better at distinguishing between big things and little things. Now I can see what’s truly important versus what’s trivial. So if I’m mad at my brother or Lauren’s brother, I know it’s not making the situation into something greater than it is. I’m more likely to be the one to make the first move and say, “I’m sorry, I love you. Let’s get past this.” Because you never know what’s going to happen to you or the people you care about tomorrow, or even later today. So you need to be able to say and show that you love them before it’s too late. Basketball is important to me, but family is so much more significant.
Another thing is the way I approach difficult situations. As an athlete you’re used to having control of your body, but then something happens and you can’t influence it. When Lauren was sick there was nothing she could do but accept what was happening and believe that everything was going to turn out just fine. We fell back on our beliefs and decided to let God handle it.