How Jrue Holiday Became The USWNT's Biggest Fan
During his freshman year at UCLA, Jrue Holiday went to watch a women's basketball game. While he was approaching his seat in the stands, a young fan stopped him to ask whether he was Darren Collison and whether she could get his autograph.
He explained that he wasn't Collison and went to take his seat when a woman behind him said with a smile, "Don't worry, you're cuter than Darren is."
That woman was Lauren Cheney, whom you now know as Lauren Holiday. Star midfielder on the U.S women's soccer team, former UCLA standout and clearly a master pickup artist.
Although the two didn't begin dating after their hilarious first encounter, they did strike up a friendship that months later blossomed into a romantic relationship. "She was really cute, that was the first thing that stood out to me," Jrue said by phone this week from Ottawa.
"And she was older than me, which was cool. I was a freshman, and I think she was a junior. At the time we were both with other people, but we did become friends, and months later, after I got drafted, we started dating."
Fast-forward six years. Jrue is now a star guard on the New Orleans Pelicans and the biggest cheerleader for Lauren, the reigning U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year who's in Canada right now for the Women's World Cup as a member of the U.S. national team. The pair were married in the summer of 2013 and, despite their chaotic schedules, try to spend every possible moment together -- a feat that might sound easier than it is.
Between his hectic NBA travel schedule and her dual responsibilities with the national team and FC Kansas City, the two are "away from each other a lot more than we see each other," according to Jrue. But despite the frequent long-distance challenges, they make it work as best as they can. "Anytime we get to see each other, even if it's just for a few hours, we take it," he said.
"She travels all the time throughout the year, I think they only get something like six weeks off all year, and during my season, it's just really hard. But during the summer when she's traveling, I pretty much just follow her."
With his season having ended in April after a first-round playoff loss to eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Jrue was able to plan his summer around Lauren's schedule. Joined by a trainer from the Pelicans and his teenage cousin James, Jrue is following the squad across Canada for the entire tournament to cheer on his wife and her teammates.
And while many of his fellow NBA players likely enjoy having some much-needed time at home during the offseason, Jrue is thrilled by the opportunity. "I'll obviously never get to play in the World Cup, but I get to experience it because of Lauren," he said.
"I get to be kind of involved with the team but also be a fan, and it's great. To actually be here, and for the whole month, and to have the full experience is amazing. To see my wife standing there on the field during the national anthem is really special."
Their time together during the World Cup is limited, of course, but the Holidays have had some adventures in during their travels. While the team was in Vancouver for its Group D finale against Nigeria, Jrue and Lauren explored Grouse Mountain and walked across the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge. Jrue calls that outing his favorite moment of the tournament so far.
While Lauren undoubtedly is enjoying her off-the-field experiences, her focus is on winning a World Cup title. Recognizing the importance of said goal makes watching games from the stands a tense experience for Jrue.
"I do get really nervous, and I'm usually not the type to get nervous," he said. "When I play, I'm excited and amped up, but when I watch her, I'm just so nervous. I want her to play well and not get hurt and, honestly, just destroy everybody out there, and obviously I just want her to win because I know how much it means to her."
And if he needs some support from others who understand his unique situation, he doesn't have to look far. Several of Lauren's teammates also have professional athletes as significant others, including Alex Morgan's husband, Servando Carrasco, and Sydney Leroux's husband, Dom Dwyer, who both play for Sporting Kansas City, and Julie Johnston's boyfriend Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles. The group makes for a unique fraternity full of "great guys who are all normal even though they're celebrities."
Like his peers, Jrue is frequently recognized by the fans at the games, but not for why you might think. "People will come up to me and want to take pictures with me because I'm Lauren's husband, and not a basketball player," Jrue said.
"And I love that, it's way more important to me to be known as that because it means people recognize her accomplishments and what she's doing out there."
Although Lauren is suspended for Friday's quarterfinal match against China because she picked up two yellow cards, Jrue will be there cheering the team on in hopes of getting through to the semifinals. As the couple's biggest arguments have been over card games, Jrue knows just how competitive his wife can be and how important it is for her to win the title. "She's the most competitive person I've ever met in my life, and I know a lot of competitive people," he said.
"They call her alter ego 'Nae Nae.' Lauren is the normal one, but 'Nae Nae' is the competitive one who is just scrappy and doesn't want to lose ever. You honestly have no idea long our argument over Uno lasted. She just really needs to win all the time."