Underrated. Under-appreciated. Unselfish. All three describe Jrue Holiday – and the lack of attention is a big reason why he doesn’t dominate the headlines nightly.
The Milwaukee Bucks’ newest point guard is in his 12th NBA season and has only been named an All-Star once. Even more shockingly, has been named to an All-Defensive Team just twice.
In November 2020, Holiday was traded to the Bucks for a king’s ransom. Milwaukee gave up three first-round picks, two pick swaps, George Hill, and Eric Bledsoe. While Jrue was largely viewed as underrated, the Bucks wanted to show him just how much he was worth to them.
In late December 2020, I had a chance to talk with Jrue Holiday and his wife, Lauren, a now-retired member of the US women’s national soccer team. They discussed Jrue’s fit on the Bucks, being able to stay in shape during the pandemic, and the motivation behind their philanthropy.
This past offseason, Jrue joined an already-stellar defensive team in Milwaukee. I asked him what he felt he brought to a team that plans to contend. After noting things in Milwaukee were great so far, he believed that he can bring “a calming element, especially down the stretch. Defensively, I feel like I’m one of the best defenders in the league.”
His bold claim has support from some of the best around the association. Holiday, who can guard almost any position, has impressed a few of the high-level scorers in the NBA.
Damian Lillard named Jrue Holiday as the best defensive guard in the league. Kevin Durant noted it was tough to dribble on him in their 2018 Warriors-Pelicans playoff series, and called him special on that side of the ball. Once, in-game, Joe Ingles even said Holiday was the best defender in the NBA.
JJ Redick, a former teammate, lauded Holiday on Twitter as one of the best defenders out there:
He’s the best on ball defender I’ve seen
— JJ Redick (@jj_redick) May 16, 2020
Already armed with versatile defensive players, the Bucks had the league’s top defensive rating in 2019-20. Adding Jrue Holiday, who can stay in front of almost anyone, may be what finally pushes them to the Finals.
That’s what defines a good defender, Jrue told me: staying in front of the offensive player. It’s tempting for fans to scour the blocks and steals columns of a box score to determine who played great defense. But Jrue explained how he evaluated a good defender.
In his mind, it was “somebody that doesn’t get beat very often…Somebody who takes on the challenge every single night of guarding the best players on the court.”
On the Pelicans, Jrue had that assignment most nights. In the 2019-20 season, he guarded All-Star players 21.9% of the time, and he guarded All-NBA players 15.2% of the time, per Bball Index. Both numbers are in the 99th percentile of all players.
When he’s not harassing all-time great scorers, Jrue Holiday can be found working out at home. During the pandemic, Jrue and Lauren have both been using Tonal, the world’s smartest home gym, and personal trainer.
Tonal uses a digital weight system, and both Jrue and Lauren were able to use it to complete home workouts in the midst of their busy schedules. Jrue was training to prepare for the upcoming NBA season. Lauren was able to squeeze in workouts with two kids at home and Jrue on the road. Jrue was able to do strength training focused on his NBA regimen, while Lauren was able to do training more fitting of a soccer player. It was “one of the best fitness equipment pieces I’ve ever used,” according to Lauren.
Both asserted that Tonal, and products like it, could one day put gyms out of business. In quarantine, it was a lifesaver for Lauren. As a mom of a two-month-old and a four-year-old with limited free time, she doesn’t see herself ever going back to a real gym. A smart home gym like Tonal is versatile enough to be her permanent workout partner.
But being at home doesn’t mean their generosity is put to rest. Recently, the Holiday’s were in the headlines for their philanthropy. Over the summer, they made the decision to donate the rest of Jrue’s 2020 salary to black-owned small businesses and initiatives.
As the NBA bubble was starting over the summer, Lauren was five months pregnant. Wanting to be with his family, Jrue strongly considered sitting out the rest of the season. But Lauren and he decided, instead, to have him play in the bubble, and donate his earnings to black-owned small businesses. Both Jrue and Lauren said they had a heart for those who were “losing money, losing a job, and not able to make money” during the pandemic.
Knowing his work would benefit people in need helped inform his decision. “Doing that really made me feel like it was worth going to play,” Jrue Holiday decided. “Being able to do this for other people, for people that were less fortunate or in a hard time.”
The Holiday’s take applications on which businesses to donate to, and they take the time to pore over each application to make sure the business is trying to better themselves and their families and others.
That’s what Jrue and Lauren are trying to do, at the end of the day. Love and support others in any way that they can, demonstrated by their dedication to giving back. Lauren summed it up by saying that Jrue “was the most selfless human I’ve ever met.”
Lauren’s assessment was shared by Jrue’s colleagues. At the end of the 2019-20 season, he was the recipient of the Twymann-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award – given to the player who displayed selfless play along with on and off-court leadership.
But accolades and attention aren’t what they’re after. In fact, unlike most NBA players in the spotlight, Jrue Holiday doesn’t pay much attention to what’s being said about him on social media.
“Personally, I don’t care,” Jrue said. “I have a circle that I care about their opinion – that’s my family, my close friends.” Lauren agreed with him that they keep their focus not on what others say, but on how they can help them regardless.
They’re both in a position, Lauren explained, “knowing that we are so blessed that we want to bless others and we want to give back.” What Lauren said next encapsulated their goals in life:
“Really and truly what matters to us is loving people no matter where they are in life or what they’re going through. If we can be there for them, if we can show up, we think that’s really important.”
And so Jrue and Lauren Holiday will keep flying under the radar. Jrue will keep staying in front of elite scorers every night – and in the 2020 NBA bubble, wasn’t even getting a penny for it himself. Lauren will keep pushing forward in her post-soccer life of raising her newborn and four-year-old.
And with faith and family as their top priorities, the Holiday’s will keep on loving the people around them, any way they can.
That’s something worth bringing attention to.