In an era when many parents spend vast amounts of money obtaining the absolute best in sports training and instruction for their children, Shawn Holiday’s perspective is in high demand. At a time when some adults possess a single-minded obsession in pursuit of a Division I athletic scholarship for their youngsters, Holiday is often treated by strangers and acquaintances as a wise sage, who surely must know the secrets to success. After Thursday’s NBA draft, that opinion will likely become even more widespread.
The father of nine- and five-year NBA veteran guards Jrue Holiday and Justin Holiday, as well as UCLA guard Aaron Holiday – a projected first-round draft pick June 21 – Shawn Holiday is living a dream athletically-minded American dads could only imagine (daughter Lauren also played college hoops for UCLA). With Aaron set to launch his professional basketball career in 2018-19, Shawn will have three sons playing in the NBA. Based on that extreme rarity, people sometimes approach Shawn to ask for insightful tips and pointers on how they might produce similar results for their offspring.
“They come up to me and are like, ‘What did you do?’ ” Shawn said from his California home this week, laughing.
Parents who seek cutting-edge ideas on cultivating future Division I athletes may be surprised – perhaps even a bit disappointed – to hear the philosophies that guided Shawn and wife Toya. It’s a decidedly old-school approach, one requiring a combination of things that probably wouldn’t make for a riveting sports-movie plot, areas of emphasis such as mastery of fundamentals, work ethic and sacrifice.
“There is no secret or magic,” explained Shawn, who like Toya played college basketball at Arizona State. “It’s just hard work. People think that because my wife and I played, that’s why our children are so good at basketball. Well, I don’t know. Maybe there are some genes in there (that help), but our kids put in the work, the blood, sweat and tears.”
In an effort to try to maximize their children’s chances of long-term success, U.S. parents sometimes push their kids into specializing in one sport at an early age, but the Holidays exerted zero pressure or demands, despite the couple’s lifelong passion for basketball.
“My parents never forced us to play,” Jrue said, during a ’17-18 season that was his best since coming to New Orleans five years ago. “They were never like, ‘OK, you’ve got to wake up at 5:30 and make sure you do this and do that.’ I always respected that about my parents. Nothing was ever forced. It was more so for the love of the game.”
“My wife and I allowed them to play all sports,” Shawn said of his children. “We weren’t going to push them to play basketball just because we played it. We vowed that if they were passionate about whatever they chose to do, we’d make sure we’d do everything we could for them to succeed. We also wanted them to be kids and be able to play with their friends and things like that. A lot of parents push their kids hard, with no breaks. We didn’t do that. I think that’s important, because some kids get burned out and then don’t want to play (a sport) anymore.”
Make no mistake, Shawn and Toya’s hoops experience helped. Toya was a high school athletic director and girls basketball coach – she even coached daughter Lauren at that level – and the children spent countless hours in the gym with their father. Shawn began each “workout day” with ballhandling drills, perhaps one reason why Jrue is among the NBA’s most ambidextrous players. Dad emphasized proper shooting fundamentals and had his kids do push-ups and sit-ups, partly due to the realization that strength is a vital aspect of children learning how to correctly shoot a basketball. Justin shot 36 percent from three-point range with Chicago in ’17-18, while Aaron was a career 42 percent three-point shooter in three seasons at UCLA.
“At a young age, when you work out and have that upper-body strength, it helps you get your shooting form down,” Shawn said. “Because you can’t get the ball up to the basket otherwise. When we worked on shooting, we’d start close to the basket and show them how to release the ball off their fingertips and how to follow through. We’d practice that every day, and they got better and better. When kids see improvement, they want to keep doing it.”
While some sports-obsessed parents believe sinking substantial financial resources into the athletic dreams of their children is the best pathway to success, Shawn and Toya were much more focused on the idea that time was their most valuable contribution. Shawn once changed jobs partly because a boss didn’t understand why Shawn was commonly leaving work at 5 o’clock, instead of working non-mandatory overtime hours.
“I told him, ‘My kids play sports. I have to be there,’ ” Shawn remembered.
“My dad has worked for furniture companies, Pepsi, Arrowhead,” an appreciative Jrue said. “He never missed a game. He always made our games, no matter what. That was the biggest thing for him, to see his kids succeed in what they do.”
“Let me tell you what I enjoyed the most (about involvement in sports) when they were growing up: I got to spend time with my kids,” Shawn said. “You don’t get that time back when you get older.”
With three sons playing for teams based in New Orleans, Chicago and Los Angeles during the ’17-18 basketball season, attending every game was a logistical impossibility for Shawn and Toya. The couple was on hand for the vast majority of Aaron’s UCLA games – both home and away – while also making periodic trips to Pelicans and Bulls games.
Shawn has relied heavily on the NBA app, which allowed him to watch New Orleans and Chicago games on his phone, sometimes from the stands of a UCLA game he was attending. That will come in handy again in ’18-19, when there will be many nights he must keep tabs on three simultaneous NBA games. For now, he’s eagerly anticipating Thursday, when Aaron is expected to hear his name called in Round 1 by Adam Silver.
“It’s a blessing,” Shawn said of having three NBA sons. “You’re lucky if you get one. To have three, it’s unthinkable. It’s pretty amazing. But they put in the work to get there, so I’m really happy for them. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the future holds for all three of them. Maybe one day they can all play together, but who knows?
“This is an awesome feeling that I can’t really describe. It’s amazing. I give the glory to God. He blessed us with our kids, and look at them now. It’s unbelievable.”