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Jrue Holiday gives thanks for family and Anthony Davis

The Pelicans vet hopes fans will show AD respect upon New Orleans return

NEW ORLEANS – Jrue Holiday smiled as he watched his wife, Lauren, chase their 3-year-old daughter, J.T., around a basketball court at his annual Turkey Day with Holiday at the Gayle and Tom Benson Community Center.

It was only three years ago that Lauren Holiday was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor while pregnant with J.T. in June 2016. Holiday took a leave of absence from the New Orleans Pelicans at the start of the 2016-17 NBA season to be by her side. She gave birth to a healthy girl they named Jrue Tyler Holiday that September, then had the tumor successfully removed by Duke University medical specialists in Raleigh, North Carolina, a few weeks later.

On this day, the Holidays are wearing matching maroon sweaters that read, “SUPER THANKFUL,” while serving 75 underprivileged families in New Orleans a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. They play pop-a-shot, take pictures and offer hugs.

From left to right: Jrue Holiday, daughter J.T. and wife Lauren Holiday during Turkey Day with Holiday.

Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

“My family is doing well,” Holiday told The Undefeated. “Any free time, free moment I get, I am trying to spend it with them. This is kind of a perfect place to show that I love my family and I’m about my family.

“It’s always been God, family and basketball. To put them before basketball to me is a blessing. And God has blessed me with so much more after that. I don’t know if I could be playing without my family.”

The presence of his family helps Holiday keep things in perspective. Even with the Pelicans struggling this season, the 29-year-old point guard has a lot to be thankful for as the longest tenured player on the Pelicans, currently in his seventh season in New Orleans.

Although Holiday missed 107 games to injury during his first three seasons in New Orleans, he signed a five-year, $126 million contract in 2017 and has been a stabilizing force for a franchise that has undergone many changes during his tenure.

“I’m literally the last one around with exception to maybe the security guard,” Holiday said. “There was a ball boy that was here before me, but now he is one of our coaches. There is literally maybe three of us still around. But as a basketball player, it is just me. I’m here.”

On Wednesday, Holiday will reunite with his basketball family as his close friend, Anthony Davis, will return to the Smoothie King Center for the first time since leaving New Orleans. Davis was the No. 1 overall pick by the then-New Orleans Hornets in the 2012 NBA draft. But frustrated by years of losing and poor management, Davis asked the Pelicans for a trade before last season and was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers on July 6.

Holiday said he supported Davis through it all.

Anthony Davis (center) of the New Orleans Pelicans celebrates with his team after the game against the LA Clippers on Jan. 14 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

“For me, it was about him being happy at the end of the day,” Holiday said. “That was the most important thing. This is for anybody, I don’t want anyone to be in a situation where they are not happy. That can affect them mentally. … He had to do it for himself. He had to do it for his family. With the business of basketball, that is something as players we have to accept.”

Davis said he told Holiday he was going to request a trade before telling the Pelicans.

“Before I even went to the team, I told him just out of respect,” Davis said. “He has been with me six years and we’ve been through so much. … It was always us two there. Before it all went down I told him first. He respected the decision. Obviously, it was tough for me to leave him and for him to see me go. But he understood it.”

The Pelicans had been to the playoffs only twice with Davis and Holiday in New Orleans. They were swept in the first round by the Golden State Warriors in 2015 and lost in the second round to the Warriors in 2018. That season, the Pelicans were playing well but lost DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles tendon.

Despite the struggles, injury woes and departures, Holiday is committed to playing in New Orleans and has not asked for a trade.

“It wasn’t my time. I wanted to stay here and see what we can do,” Holiday said. “A lot of the times, too, there was a point where we weren’t healthy or something happened or whatever it was. I always felt like our full potential was always taken from us because whatever the circumstance may be. I’m still hopeful and encouraged. I’m still ready to go out and hoop.”

After a slow start, the Pelicans could be a team to keep an eye on. New Orleans has a talented and deep roster with Holiday, Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, JJ Redick, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Derrick Favors, Jahlil Okafor, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Health is paramount to the Pelicans’ playoff hopes this season, as is Holiday’s leadership.

“He’s done a really good job of leading the young guys,” David Griffin, Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations, said. “He’s not overly vocal, and we knew that wasn’t who he was, but he does a really good job individually of getting with guys.”

Davis and Holiday remain close friends and worked out together in the offseason in Los Angeles. They regularly offer support to each other during the season.

“We still watch each other’s games,” Holiday said. “I hit him right after they played Dallas. I remember down in the fourth quarter he hit two tough shots. Just talking to him [after], I said, ‘You’re the best in the world. You’re 7 feet tall and handling the ball like a guard.’ Our friendship will always be there. It was something that was built over time in New Orleans.”

“I still text him,” Davis said. “I watch all the games and still watch him and a couple guys on the team because we are still close. I still talk to him and he talks to me. I tell him what I see. He tells me what he sees. Obviously, being in that situation for seven years being the franchise guy, and then now it’s on him with Zion out. Now, I try to help him with that.

“There is a business side to it. We’re still superclose friends. The good thing about it is to realize that it is still a business. And to show the world that basketball isn’t just on-the-court things. We don’t have fake relationships just because we are teammates. When we play against each other, we are enemies. But off the court, we are really great friends.”

On Wednesday night, Pelicans fans are likely to boo Davis, who wore a shirt that read, “That’s all folks,” for his last game with the franchise. But Holiday hopes the fans can appreciate Davis’ stellar seven-year career in New Orleans.

“I got an idea on how it will be,” Holiday said. “But hopefully, they treat him with respect, because he did a lot for the city and he did a lot for the Pelicans. He was one of the first Pelicans and stayed for a long time. He put his heart and soul here. I can attest to that because I played with him. That is part of the reason why I stayed.”

Jrue Holiday handing out Thanksgiving meals at his Turkey Day with Holiday event.

Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

At the Thanksgiving event, Holiday gave a short speech to the families who received the turkey dinners. He told them that he was happy to have them there, and that he was hopeful he could make the holidays a little easier for them. He considers some of the recipients extended family after getting to know them during his holiday giveaways.

“I am from a family that likes to give, and we like to give from the heart,” Holiday said. “Myself and my wife have always given to the less fortunate. It’s not that we had anything [growing up]. It’s how we were raised. We always had to give something during the holidays. Now that I am blessed beyond my wildest dreams, I feel like it’s only right to give back.

“All it really is, is time. The money doesn’t really mean much. Giving your time, playing with the kids and seeing the parents’ faces is pretty cool.”

Perhaps the best part for Holiday, though, is watching his wife and daughter run around together.

“He loves the game,” Davis said, “but he also realizes that his family is important.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.