Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday on fatherhood: ‘It’s awesome. It’s a joy’

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

As a ninth-year NBA veteran who’s primarily been a point guard in his career, Jrue Holiday frequently goes head-to-head with difficult opponents at the most talent-rich position in the league. But he’s now facing an equally daunting one-on-one challenge off the court. She’s 14 months old.

“When she can’t have something and her mom says no, she’ll always come to me right away,” the New Orleans Pelicans player said, laughing and beaming as he discusses his daughter J.T., who was born in September 2016. “Lauren is telling her no, that she can’t have whatever it is, but then I see her pretty eyes and I’m like, ‘OK, here you go!’ ”

At recent Smoothie King Center home games, Pelicans fans have begun to understand why the girl so often makes Dad melt. Prior to tip-off, the overhead Pelivision screen – the team’s version of a Jumbotron – has captured the youngster excitedly getting ready for the game to start, while being held by Jrue’s mother or aunt.

“She sees me on the court, and her and my wife watch games on TV, too, so when I come on TV she will go crazy,” Jrue said, smiling. “They tell me she loves the Jumbotron, so when I come on there, she also goes crazy.”

This Thanksgiving is particularly special for the Holiday family, partly because of what happened last summer. During her pregnancy, Lauren – a two-time Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion for USA soccer – was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl in September, then underwent surgery to have the tumor successfully removed. Jrue stayed with his wife and daughter during the harrowing experience, not returning to the Pelicans until a month into the 2016-17 regular season.

“This Thanksgiving isn’t as stressful as the last one, obviously,” Jrue said. “To be able to share memories like this (holiday) with my daughter is priceless.”

One of those memories has occurred an hour or so before home games, when J.T. has come down to the court to spend time with Dad, who relishes the experience of being able to play in front of his daughter.

“It’s awesome. It’s a joy,” Jrue said. “I can always look into the stands and see where she is, and she can see me. It’s a great feeling. She loves basketball, she loves soccer, she loves sports. She loves to be active. When I bring her down to the court, she gets really excited. She starts saying ‘ball.’

“(Having a child) changes you a lot, honestly. You have someone you have to take care of and someone who relies on you. They are the first priority now. It’s not you. It’s not your wife. It’s your child. It’s amazing to know you created someone and to see her grow. Bonding with her and having a relationship is something you can’t really describe; it’s something you have to go through.”

Before and after re-signing a long-term contract with the Pelicans in July, Jrue thoroughly enjoyed getting to spend extensive time with J.T. this offseason, being there for several milestone moments.

“The first time she walked, the first time I heard her say, ‘Dah dah,’ ” Jrue lists, smiling. “First time she got regular food, her first birthday. So many great moments. It’s cool now because she can walk. When I go to leave (home) now, she will run to the door and want to embrace me, and then I don’t want to leave.”

J.T. is too young to be able to remember these days when she gets older, which is one reason why Jrue treasures the numerous photos he has of his daughter. When the Pelicans are on road trips, Lauren takes daily images – Jrue said he has “about 2,000 or 3,000 pictures of them doing things together saved in my phone, because I can’t always be there.”

J.T. has also become somewhat of a “star” at the Smoothie King Center, where photographers have captured her pregame interaction with Dad. The NBA’s Twitter account, with its 27 million followers, recently tweeted a picture of Jrue and J.T. with the caption “This Is Why We Play.” Jrue sees the photos as preserving what will be lifelong memories.

“People have taken great photos,” Jrue said, nodding. “They are memories I can share with her, memories that are timeless and will never go away. I really appreciate that.”