New Orleans Pelicans' Jrue Holiday finds Strength Under Fire

This story appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Sports Spectrum Magazine. Support our ministry and subscribe here.

After navigating the scariest year of his life,
Jrue Holiday is enjoying his best season in the NBA

The New Orleans Pelicans were on the court getting ready to host the Detroit Pistons in a Jan. 8 matchup when starting point guard Jrue Holiday needed help grabbing a basketball to take a final practice shot. Coming to his rescue wasn’t a trainer or a ball boy, but his 17-month-old daughter. She leaped out of her mother’s arms and approached her dad, clutching the ball to her jean jacket. She took two large steps and bounced it to her father’s waiting arms. Fans witnessed the adorable moment on the Jumbotron.

But as simple as that father-daughter exchange may have appeared, it was a monumental blessing — one of many Holiday treasures after going through one of the toughest challenges he’s faced as a husband and father.

In June 2016, Jrue’s wife, former U.S. soccer star Lauren Holiday (nee Cheney), received a major health scare while six months pregnant with their first child. She was diagnosed with a benign tumor on the right side of her brain. Thankfully, the tumor was operable and not expected to threaten the health of Lauren or the baby.

However, Lauren began suffering painful headaches, so doctors induced labor 5 1/2 weeks early to accelerate the timeline for brain surgery. She gave birth to healthy baby girl, Jrue Tyler Holiday, in September 2016.

Just a few weeks later, she successfully underwent surgery to remove the tumor.

Through it all, Jrue stayed by his wife’s and daughter’s sides, and held on to a “positive belief that everything was going to be OK.” He missed the first 12 games of the Pelicans’ 2016-17 regular season, as the team never pressured him to return before his family was ready.

“[Lauren is] the most important thing to me,” Jrue said. “Obviously we were having a daughter as well and this was going to be my first experience with that and I just wanted her to come out healthy.”

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Support for the Holidays poured in from all over the country. Prayers and well wishes from the New Orleans community, fans and Pelicans teammates made their way to the Holidays’ front door.

But several questions lurked. How well would Lauren heal from surgery? Would the baby being born early experience any health issues? It all forced the Holidays to press into their faith. Lauren memorized Psalm 30:5 and would recite it daily:

“For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

And Jrue committed himself to grow deeper in his time of prayer with the Lord.

“I think for her and me that was definitely a pivotal moment because that was something — it brought us closer together getting closer to God,” Jrue said, adding, “I would say [our relationship with God] changed because I started to reach more towards Him. And I don’t know if it sounds cliche or whatever, but I felt like a lot of times when something bad happens, that’s where you can start to seek God more. Again, some people veer away from Him but at that point I felt like because my wife and myself are both believers, we [prayed] together and that’s something that we could just do together. We just pray together every night before we go to sleep. Pray for our daughter, pray for her health.”

Eventually, Lauren’s health improved enough for Jrue to return to the court. Yet as he rejoined the team, several questions lingered, such as, “Could he stay healthy?” In 2014, Jrue missed 48 games with a stress fracture in his right tibia. The following season he re-injured his tibia again and missed 42 games. But even though he missed time, the injuries helped transform his prayer life.

“Before [those injuries] I felt like I prayed a lot,” Jrue said. “I tried to pray when everything would go well. Do my devotion every day. Set my alarm every morning and it would say, ‘Do your devotion. Do your devotion.’ But I do think that me being hurt and going through that struggle, that was one of the times where I didn’t get as close to God as I wanted to, because I got hurt one time but the injury reoccurred again. And I think that second time was when I started to get closer to Him.”

In Holiday’s first game back on Nov. 18, 2016, he scored 21 points and dished out seven assists against the Portland Trail Blazers, and then helped the Pelicans reel off four consecutive victories. They were 2-10 in his absence. The Pelicans went on to finish the season 34-48, missing the postseason, but Holiday was a stabilizing force on the offense, averaging 15.4 points and 7.3 assists per game.

Seeing Jrue’s value to the team, the Pelicans rewarded him with a five-year, $126 million deal this past offseason. And the contract has paid off for New Orleans.

During the regular season, he posted career highs in points (19.0), rebounds (4.5) and field goal percentage (.494). He’s been even better in the playoffs, scoring a team-high 33 points in Game 2 of New Orleans’ first-round series against Portland, which helped the Pelicans to a 111-102 victory Tuesday night. 

As Holiday continues his pursuit for a championship, he’ll be sitting on a verse that helps him focus on and off the court.

“One Scripture verse is Philippians 4:6-7, and it’s, ‘Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything. Ask God for what you need and thank Him for everything that you have. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace,’” Jrue said.

At home, Lauren has fully recovered. Seeing his wife healed has given Jrue a new insight to his faith.

“Just believing,” Jrue said. “Believing that God can heal any disease. He is a miracle worker and just to be able to have faith in that and to have peace with whatever decision He makes because ultimately it’s up to Him and it’s not up to us.”

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