Jrue Holiday to donate NBA salary to Black business community

Each night, they’d put their 3-year-old daughter Jrue Tyler, or JT, to bed, praying with her and singing to her. Then Jrue and Lauren Holiday would talk to each other about the state of the country. As protests against systemic racism and police brutality reverberated throughout America, it seemed that every day a new injustice against Black people came to light.

“He just felt that basketball didn’t matter at this time,” Lauren said of Jrue, a veteran guard with the New Orleans Pelicans who grew up in Southern California. “[He thought], ‘There’s so much injustice happening to my own people.’”

Was it worth it under those circumstances, as much as he wanted to be with his team, to go back to play? Was it wise to spent months away from his family — Lauren pregnant with their second child — during a worsening pandemic. His actions in the past have proved that basketball isn’t everything to him, his family is.

One night the answer came to them. When it did, it felt so simple.

They would donate the remainder of Jrue’s salary this season, about $5 million, to businesses, nonprofits and higher learning institutions that serve the Black community and communities of color.

“I felt like there needed to be a reason why I felt it was worth leaving my family and my pregnant wife to go into this bubble,” Jrue said. “I think that gave me a great reason to go back and play, to feel like I’m doing something for my people and this culture. Donating the rest of my contract was kind of the ultimate decision for why I was going.”

The newly created Jrue and Lauren Holiday Fund has committed to donate $1.5 million to organizations and businesses in New Orleans, $1 million in Indianapolis where Lauren is from, and $1.5 million in Los Angeles and Compton. Jrue grew up in Chatsworth and attended Studio City Campbell Hall High, and they both were standout athletes at UCLA. An additional $1 million will be given to Black-owned small businesses in 10 U.S. cities and $500,000 will go to historically Black colleges and universities.

“We just hope this is a blueprint and a call to action for others who have the means,” said Emile Washington, who works with Athletes and Artists United for Social Change, an organization helping distribute the funds.

Jrue would not have hesitated to skip the rest of the season if that’s what was right for his family. In September 2016 he took a leave of absence from the Pelicans after Lauren was diagnosed with a brain tumor while pregnant with JT.

The two had met at UCLA where Lauren Cheney was a star soccer player and he was a standout freshman on the basketball team. Holiday left UCLA after one season and was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers. He was traded to New Orleans in 2013 — the same year he and Lauren got married. By that point Lauren had won gold medals with the U.S. Women’s National Team in the Beijing and London Olympics.

“I’m from Indiana which is, I would say, there are many race issues still in Indiana, just growing up I had always been aware of what was happening,” said Lauren, who is white. “I had always hated injustice and stood against it. … When it happens to you, it’s a little different.”

Until recently, she hadn’t spoken about those experiences, and Jrue hadn’t spoken about his own either.

“I felt like kind of keeping that in and keeping that private has been something that not only me and my family but this culture that we built, that’s kind of what was acceptable,” Jrue said. “Not being seen as a victim because this happens probably more than people think.”

Jrue Holiday played for UCLA for a season before being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2009.

Jrue Holiday played for UCLA for a season before being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2009.

(Chris Morrison / US Presswire)

That changed this summer.

In June, Lauren wrote a piece for the Players Tribune in which she detailed many small instances of racism against her husband that she had witnessed — and one big one.

She wrote about the time she and her sister-in-law, Jrue’s sister whose name is also Lauren, were pulled over by police without an explanation. They didn’t have their driver’s licenses with them and contacted Jrue, who said he would bring them to the scene. When Jrue arrived, the police immediately handcuffed him despite having been told in advance that the women were his wife and sister.

“The one time my wife spoke on it, that was only one time for me,” Jrue said. “It’s happened more than a few. I think that before, you just expect it and it’s kind of like, what’s the point of sharing it?”

His Black friends and teammates weren’t surprised to hear his story. It seemed almost normal to them.

The thing Lauren remembered most about that incident was the dread on her sister-in-law’s face — dread from the knowledge that her brother could be killed. She’s thought about the experience, too, in the context of their daughter, JT, and the son they will soon have.

“There are conversations his parents were having with him that I know for sure my parents never had with my brother,” Lauren said. “What happens when you’re pulled over, how you’re supposed to act in certain situations. My family is going to have to have those conversations to protect my children. That just crushed me.”

Speaking about these kinds of instances is part of the mission the Holidays have given themselves. Jrue hopes they can build awareness.

“There’s a part of me that feels like I didn’t do enough and maybe there’s others that feel that way too,” Jrue said. “Maybe if I had shared it sooner, not just me, but other people too, maybe this could have been an issue that had been more aware earlier. I’m not upset. I feel like what’s in my control now is what I do. Even though I didn’t do my best then, I can do my best now.”

The other part of their mission is to use the money they have to make a difference.

Jrue stays as connected as he can with the Jrue and Lauren Holiday Fund, but with the seeding games beginning Thursday, his time is limited. Lauren intends to be hands-on with the selection process.

A woman named Sevetri Wilson is organizing the logistics through the company Resilia. They started receiving applications from organizations, businesses and schools around the country. They’ve been in communication with the mayor’s offices in Compton, Indianapolis and New Orleans to help identify underserved businesses and nonprofits. Their hope is to choose micro-businesses and organizations where even $15,000 or $20,000 will make a tangible difference.

“Jrue and I are relational people, we’re not transactional,” Lauren said. “Not only are we going to support your business financially but, how can we support your business in other ways also? Is there any coaching you need, is there any way we can support you by getting the word out about your business?”

Adjusting their budget to launch the foundation was the least of their concerns.

“It is about setting up your family and setting up generations, but I also want to teach my daughter and my kids that sharing is caring, honestly,” said Jrue, who has earned more than $100 million in the NBA. “God has blessed me with so much, it’s only the right thing to do to bless it forward.”

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