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After Losing Basketball, Lauren Holiday Found Strength In Family13:15
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Clockwise, from left: Lauren, Justin, Jrue and Aaron Holiday. (Courtesy Lauren Holiday)
Clockwise, from left: Lauren, Justin, Jrue and Aaron Holiday. (Courtesy Lauren Holiday)

When Aaron Holiday’s name was called at last year’s NBA Draft, basketball fans were already familiar with his family. His brother, Jrue, is a guard for the New Orleans Pelicans and a member of the NBA’s all-defensive team. His other brother, Justin, is a six-year NBA veteran. Their parents, Toya and Shawn, both played college basketball at Arizona State. But those fans may not have known about Toya and Shawn’s other child: Lauren.

"People should know that she was a really good basketball player," Aaron says. "She was probably the best out of all four of us. But most people wouldn’t know that because they didn’t see her play."

Holidays Versus Holidays

Lauren Holiday says it’s no surprise: as kids, she and her three brothers played a lot of basketball.

"We always had a basketball hoop growing up, from what I can remember," Lauren says. "And we had the basketball hoop right in front of our garage. And we would just play two-on-two." 

"Yes, there was a basketball hoop," says Toya Holiday, Lauren, Aaron, Justin and Jrue's mom. "And they never had it at 10 feet. They always had it lower — like at about eight feet — so that they could slam or whatever. You know, do all these funky tricks."

"Obviously, Justin and Jrue, being the oldest, they were the team captains," Lauren says. "And then Aaron and I fell into whoever's team that day."

Lauren says sometimes, she and Aaron would switch teams in the middle of the game. They didn’t really keep score. They just played.

Lauren Holiday and her older brother, Jrue, playing basketball in their driveway. (Courtesy Lauren Holiday)
Lauren Holiday and her older brother, Jrue, playing basketball in their driveway. (Courtesy Lauren Holiday)

"They would just be out there all the time," Toya says. "Like, I'd be in the bed — I'd go to bed at about 9:30 at night, and they're outside playing ball." 

And things got competitive.

"They would always end up upset, because everyone wanted to win — like, ‘I’m taking it to you, and you have to be the best,’ " Toya says. "A lot of times I'm sort of in the kitchen looking out the window because I have to cook dinner, or I'm folding up clothes and things like that, and then they're running into the house. ‘Oh, my gosh. He kicked the ball down the street.’ Or, ‘He threw the ball over the fence’ and, you know, things like that. But it always would turn into fights. And I'm like, ‘OK, you guys, if you can't play together, we're gonna bring you in the house and I'm gonna open up the Bible. And you're gonna write one of these scriptures on strife.’ " 

Lauren and Aaron were the youngest — just three years apart. So they’d almost always end up guarding each other.

"Oh, she was fierce," Toya says. "And you know, at times, I would be like, ‘OK, you can't hit her because she's a girl, and if you guys really hit her’ — they're like, ‘She's hitting us.’ "

"I'm like, ‘OK,’ " Toya laughs.

"For me it was kind of, like, outdoing Aaron and proving to my older brothers, like, ‘Yeah, I can play,’ " Lauren says. "Like, ‘I know that it's three boys and me, but I can do it, too.’ "

And Lauren says playing with her brothers didn't diminish her confidence — it had the opposite effect.

"It definitely boosted it," Lauren says. "Like, if I'd dunk, and they were like, ‘Oh, snap!’ Like, that just made me feel so good. I think it made me love basketball even more because it was something that I can do with them.’ " 

"My husband I talk about this all the time — the reason Aaron has such a motor and he's so persistent and, just, strong is because of Lauren," Toya says. "Lauren was the one that would just take it to him all the time — and just like, ‘No, you have to be better.’ "

Aaron Holiday and his older sister, Lauren. (Courtesy Lauren Holiday)
Aaron Holiday and his older sister, Lauren. (Courtesy Lauren Holiday)

"She always went hard at me for sure," Aaron says. "She plays hard pretty much every possession that we’ve ever played. So that’s probably why she was the toughest."

"We always talk about if we're gonna have a team — because there were six of us — like, Shawn and I always talked about, ‘OK, who would you pick on your team and how come?’ " Toya says. "Well, Lauren would be the one — I'm like, ‘OK, Lauren gonna be on my team.’ Because I know — if there's a problem, she'll just figure it out."

On the court, Lauren was a lockdown defender. And that figure-it-out, I-got-that mentality? Lauren was like that off the court, too.

'I Call Him My Son'

"I think about this — she was sort of the mommy of everyone," Toya says. "So if we traveled, we were going somewhere, Lauren would be the one that will remember to bring snacks. And she just wouldn't bring snacks for herself. She'd have snacks for everybody else. She was always like that. And she always wanted to be Aaron's mom."

"I call him my son," Lauren says. "Anybody who’s ... close to me knows that that's my son." "

"I'm like, ‘Hmm ... no, I'm the mother,’ " Toya laughs.

"He's saved in my phone as my son," Lauren says. "When I yell in the other room, I’m like, ‘Son, come here!’ "

"She would always be like, ‘Oh Aaron let me do this for you,’ " Toya remembers. "She'd lay her clothes out at night, and she's like, ‘Aaron, you're going to lay your clothes and your uniforms out, because we've got to have them out — so when we get up in the morning, we just put 'em on!’ So she just, sort of, helped with everything. And of course I didn't mind. I'm like, ‘Good job girl. Way to help Mamma out.’ "

When Lauren got to high school, her mom became her basketball coach. Toya says her daughter was talented enough to play all five positions. She says, if she ever forgot one of the team’s plays, Lauren would correct her.

Lauren started getting recruited to play in college. And one school stuck out: UCLA. It was close to home. Her brother Jrue had gone there. She liked the coach. In Lauren’s mind, it was a done deal.

"And then UCLA hired a new coach," Toya says. "And we were talking, like, ‘Hey, OK, are you still going to try? Because you need to chitchat with the coach.’ And she's like, ‘Oh no — that's where I'm going.’ "

"I'm like, ‘Well I think you probably should introduce yourself to the coach,’ " Toya laughs.

Lauren talked to new head coach Cori Close. And she became a Bruin.

Lauren made her UCLA basketball debut on Nov. 14, 2012 in a game against nationally ranked Oklahoma.

"And I remember the girl for Oklahoma — she was bad," Toya says. "She was tough. And then Lauren's guarding her. I'm like, ‘Oh, OK. Here we go. We're going to learn by fire. It's great.’ And so she shut this girl down. You know, every time she got the ball, Lauren was there. Or before she had the ball, she was denying it. She was just all over her. And we ended up winning that game.’ "

"My first game was amazing, and I’m like, ‘Dang, I can’t show anything less of this,’ " Lauren says. "And I think that, for me, started to mess me up."

Lauren says she put a lot of pressure on herself to play as hard as she possibly could and to keep meeting that high bar she set in her first college game. And that intensity had some serious consequences.

"I was always nervous watching her play because she played so hard," Aaron says. "She just goes out there and plays hard, no matter what."

"This is what I can remember about that season, was the concussions," Toya says.

Off The Roller Coaster

"My first one in college was actually in summer school — so my freshman summer school," Lauren says. "We were playing pickup, and I go for a loose ball on the floor. And then another guy is going for the same ball. And he knees me in the back of my neck.

"I’m, like, laying there for a minute — head is hurting, everything is just hurting. And then, out of nowhere, I hear the sirens from an ambulance. And they came and picked me up, put me on the stretcher. I was so embarrassed. I was probably crying, because I’m a crier. They put me in the stretcher, they take me right to UCLA medical hospital.  And then I had to get a neck brace.

“I was always nervous watching her play because she played so hard.”

Aaron Holiday

"And I’m just like, ‘Why is this happening? I could have just walked off. We would've been fine. Could’ve just [gone] to the trainers.’ "

Lauren recovered in time for the start of the season and that breakout game against Oklahoma. But she played in just two more games that year. A string of concussions kept her on the sidelines. She red-shirted and came back the next season. But in December 2013 ...

"We were playing [U]SC, and I got screened," Lauren says. "And I kind of got tripped on the screen. And I fell back and hit my head."

"The next thing I knew it, she just went down," Toya remembers. "And then she was down for a long time. And I'm like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what is going on?’ Like, ‘Why isn't she getting up?’ And so we waited. And then, finally — Shawn and I were in the crowd, and they asked me to come over. I said, ‘Honey, are you OK?’ And she was like, ‘Oh, I think. I don't know.’ "

Lauren left the court with her parents and went through concussion protocol with the UCLA training staff.

"I knew at that time — I went back and said to my husband, ‘We're off the roller coaster now. We're not doing it anymore,’ " Toya remembers. "He's like, ‘I agree.’ "

"Oh, I felt terrible," Lauren says. "It was terrible. Like, the worst thing ... ever. Because I went through so much prior to actually retiring. Just, like, working out when I was not feeling good because I was trying to prove to people that — I don’t even know — just that I could do it. And so, when the time came, I felt like I lost my identity. I felt like, ‘Now, I’m going to be the loser in my family.’ "

"I just felt like, when it came to talking about basketball, I wasn’t going to be talked about anymore," Lauren adds. "And I kind of felt like I was, in a way, going to hold my family back from the potential that we have as a family in the basketball world. I don’t know. I was so down on myself. I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ "

"She became dark," Toya says. "I'm like, ‘OK, what is going on?’ I can remember one day, I said to my husband, ‘You know what, this is what we're going to do: I think we're going to have to have Lauren drop out of school. Let her see a therapist. Maybe have her go up to the church and work at Sunday school class. Things like that. Because it’s — this is bad.’ Like, there were some dark times.

"I remember fasting and just praying and crying out, like, ‘Lord, you're going to have to help us here with this one. Because this is hard. And this is so unusual for us.’ Because her personality was completely changed. Completely changed."

"I’m not gonna sugarcoat anything, because that’s just not who I am — it was hard, and I expressed that to whoever asked," Lauren says. "I felt like everything was just forced upon me. Like, things were happening to me that I didn’t want to happen." 

'Home Came To Me'

While all this was going on, Aaron was getting recruited to play college basketball. And one of the colleges on his short list was UCLA.

"I think she was really excited that UCLA was on Aaron’s list of coming to school," Toya says. "And so she took it upon herself to make sure she can sort of sway him towards being a Bruin.

"You know, I praise God that Lauren had something to work on."

So what did Aaron think of his sister's recruiting effort?

"I guess he thought it was awesome, because that’s where he went," Toya laughs. "I think he was like, ‘OK, I guess that's where I'm going.’ "

"What do you think him being there meant for her and did for her in her recovery and finding a new part of her identity?" I ask.

"I think it was the best thing ever," Toya says.

"I was so happy," Lauren says.

Unstoppable

Lauren helped Aaron acclimate to life as a college athlete. And when Lauren was having a hard time, Aaron was there for her, too.

Aaron and Lauren at Lauren's graduation from UCLA in 2016. (Courtesy Lauren Holiday)
Aaron and Lauren at Lauren's graduation from UCLA in 2016. (Courtesy Lauren Holiday)

"Every time I was sad, I would just call Aaron," Lauren says. "And I’d be like, ‘Where are you?’ And most of the time he'd be in his room chilling. So I’d be like, ‘Can you just come up to my room?’ And I would cry and give him a hug. And then we'd hang out or we'd walk to class together. We would go to the gym late at night after tutoring and stuff — we would go home together, go to church.

"When he got there, it was like home came to me."

Lauren Holiday graduated from UCLA in 2016 with a degree in history. She still lives in LA, where she now teaches first grade — and she got to visit Aaron in Indiana for a couple of his NBA games this year. She says they still talk a few times a week.

"Aaron is the person that I dream to be like when I’m older," Lauren says. "And I, literally, I will protect him —  all of my brothers — but I will protect him to the day I die." 

Lauren can’t play organized basketball anymore. She and her brothers have taken to playing tennis and golf. But every so often, when she and Aaron are together, they'll still hoop.

"We go to the 24 Hour Fitness, and people are looking at me like, ‘Really? She's about to play?’ " Lauren says. "And then we get on, and we just sweep everybody. When we're on the same team, we're definitely unstoppable."

This segment aired on June 22, 2019.

Related:

Matthew Stock Twitter Assistant Producer, Only A Game
Matthew is an assistant producer at Only A Game. 

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