Before taking the court for his first NBA Finals, Jrue Holiday was asked what advice he received from the person in his house who knows best about winning championships.
“What she's told me is to just enjoy it,” Holiday said of the wisdom shared by his wife Lauren, a FIFA World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. women’s national soccer team. “It's an opportunity of a lifetime, and really just leave everything out there. Believe in yourself because you're prepared for it. And, most of all, just enjoy it. Everything that comes with it.”
Holiday can now enjoy the outcome. On Tuesday, the Milwaukee Bucks won the franchise’s first NBA title in 50 years with a 105-98 victory over the Phoenix Suns at Fiserv Forum. These Finals, however, took Holiday, his teammates, his coaches and Bucks fans on an emotional rollercoaster.
The Bucks looked inferior in losing the first two games in Phoenix. They showed their resolve in back-to-back home wins to tie the series. They kept their composure on the road in a tense, dramatic Game 5 for the ages. And they displayed the necessary ruthlessness to close out the Suns in a hard-fought Game 6.
In the clinching win, Holiday struggled with his shot all game long, managing 12 points on 4-of-19 shooting, but he made vital contributions elsewhere with 11 assists, nine rebounds and four steals while playing a team-high 46 minutes. His persistent defense on Suns point guard Chris Paul was one of the key factors for the Bucks’ turnaround from an 0-2 series deficit.
And now, like his wife, Holiday is a champion (a “world” champion if you buy into the North American pro sports superiority complex that considers its league titles to be globally supreme). His brother Justin won an NBA title in 2015 with the Golden State Warriors.
“It’s been a heck of a journey,” Holiday said.
The same could be said for the Bucks organization and its winding road to a title. Giannis Antetokounmpo won NBA MVP awards in 2019 and 2020, but each season resulted in disappointing postseason exits. A second-round loss to the Miami Heat in the NBA bubble last year prompted general manager Jon Horst to seek meaningful roster upgrades. Last November, he traded for Holiday to have the point guard’s dynamic play complement All-Stars Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.
Holiday looked like Milwaukee’s missing piece, averaging 17.7 points and a team-best 6.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game, but the playoffs tested his mettle. A 50.3/39.2/78.7 shooter in the regular season, Holiday struggled with his shot after the first-round sweep of Miami. And going into Tuesday’s Game 6, he was shooting just 41.6 percent from the field and 30.4 percent on 3-pointers. However, career legacies are built on postseason heroics, and Holiday’s Finals will be remembered for the play he made to turn the series completely into the Bucks’ favor.
His two-hand rip of Devin Booker with 16.7 seconds remaining in Game 5 not only prevented Phoenix from taking the lead, but it also sparked a fast-break alley-oop dunk from Holiday to Antetokounmpo to clinch a 123-119 victory and a 3-2 series lead. The steal capped a game that also saw Holiday amass 27 points and 13 assists in a two-way performance reminiscent of his wife Lauren, a two-way midfielder who scored the opening goal and assisted on the match-winner in a 2011 World Cup semifinal victory over France.
“My wife does a great job of being my backbone, the backbone of the family,” Holiday said during the Finals. “When I need to sleep or if I need something, she'll pretty much take care of everything. … She knows that at some point, I'll be back to be able to help, but right now my wife has always known the importance of this and what this means to me. She's obviously been my biggest supporter.”
On Tuesday, Lauren was at Fiserv Forum to watch her husband pursue a championship. Jrue also has been in the stands for his wife’s tournament games, following the USWNT around Canada during the 2015 World Cup.
The Holiday family summer trip of 2021 has more travel ahead. Jrue will be joining the U.S. men’s basketball team in Tokyo, looking to win Olympic gold just like Lauren. Jrue acknowledged that his wife “being a two-time Olympian” was a key factor to “just continue playing basketball” with Team USA.
“First, I think I'm just going to sleep. I've run around a lot this series. I'm not going to lie. I'm going to sleep,” Holiday said after Tuesday’s title clincher. “I’m going to celebrate with my family and celebrate with my team and then got to get on another flight. … I’ve got to celebrate this and then get on a flight and represent my country.”