Nine years earlier, Toya Holiday had watched as her son, Jrue, was drafted into the NBA. Her eldest son, Justin, later worked his way into the league, playing overseas and in the Development League before getting his shot. Now, at June’s NBA draft, Toya sat nervously, waiting for her youngest son, Aaron, to join his brothers in the pros.
“I knew nothing about the NBA [when Jrue was drafted],” she said. “All you know is what you read, and sometimes what you read isn’t that nice — you’re really nervous about that. And then, just the whole [suspense]. Where is he going to? Is he going to get drafted?”
The entire Holiday family waited to hear Aaron’s name called. The first 10 picks went by. Then 15. Twenty.
“Where, whenever I get drafted, be happy with it,” Aaron told himself. “Just wait your turn and don’t stress it.”
He was selected 23rd overall by the Indiana Pacers, clearing the green room and making the Holidays the second trio of brothers currently in the NBA, joining Marshall, Mason and Miles Plumlee.
“It was like deja vu,” their father, Shawn, said of Aaron being drafted outside the lottery. Jrue had also waited — drafted with the 17th pick in 2009, also out of UCLA.
Toya kissed Aaron on the cheek, Shawn gave him a big hug, Justin stood and clapped, and Jrue and his little brother exchanged a personal handshake — two taps with the backs of their hands, a dap followed by a hug. Aaron repeated the gesture with Justin.
Following Aaron’s selection, the family slipped on Pacers hats, including Jrue and Justin, though they were later provided hats with the logos of their respective teams, the New Orleans Pelicans and Chicago Bulls.
“There’s always a certain time to wear the opposite team or the opposing team and that was one of those times,” Jrue said. Another time? When Justin won an NBA championship in 2015 with the Golden State Warriors.
Appropriately, Justin, 29, and Jrue, 28, had walked their then-21-year-old brother across the stage during player introductions earlier in the night.
“I thought it would be nice for them because they are so close,” Toya said. “Here are his two mentors, his two brothers, who have worked the journey with him. Now, they are kind of walking him into the league — like a bridge.”
But from the sons’ points of view, their parents should have been given the honor.
“That’s their baby,” Justin said of Aaron, who, at 6-foot-1, is not only the youngest but also the shortest of the brothers.
“They are the ones who raised us. They are the reason why we are here,” Jrue said.
Thing is, they didn’t plan to be here. Having one son in the NBA, let alone three, wasn’t Toya and Shawn Holiday’s goal. But when Aaron makes his professional debut on Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Holidays will have three kids to follow in the NBA.
Too much energy
Toya DeCree was an 18-year-old forward from the San Fernando Valley when she met Shawn, a sharpshooter from Pasadena, Calif. The two basketball players were both sitting at Los Angeles International Airport waiting to make a trip to China for a tournament.
Their paths crossed again three months later, this time at Arizona State University, where Toya would eventually be named Pac-10 Player of the Year. They began dating their sophomore year and married in 1987.
“It’s funny when people go, ‘I’m going to marry this person because she’s tall and then we’re going to have tall kids and they’re going to play,’ ” Shawn said. “We didn’t say that. I met my wife, we both played basketball. I liked kids … but I didn’t think about what they were going to be when they got older.”
In fact, rather than sports, Toya and Shawn emphasized the arts for their three sons and one daughter, Lauren, three years Aaron’s senior. Justin and Jrue played percussion in a classical band, as well as Brazilian and salsa percussion bands. They said they can still play drums and xylophone, and Justin is trying to learn guitar.
Sports only came into the picture once Toya realized it would be a way for her children to burn off energy.
“I used to pray for them to be asleep,” Toya said. “I thought sports was important to them because that was their makeup. When you are outside raising havoc, it’s like, you just need to go to practice and let Coach run you to death.”
Raising havoc was routine.
One of the kids’ favorite activities was scaling the side of their home so they could launch themselves down onto a trampoline. Aaron has broken his wrist at least five times, his mother said.
“You always had to be on your Ps and Qs with them because they always thought of something crazy to do,” she said.
Though sports and music were highly encouraged by their parents, the Holiday children were never forced into activities. There was just one rule: Once you sign up for something, you are not allowed to quit.
“I don’t know if it was genes or something but they all gravitated towards basketball,” Shawn said.
The sport presented the perfect avenue for Shawn to spend time with his children. He made it a point to attend every one of their games and recitals, spent hours playing pickup in the park, and he was in Philadelphia six weeks at a time to visit Jrue after he was drafted by the 76ers.
Shawn can no longer attend every one of his son’s games, but he has learned how to support from afar.
“When we are at one game, I’m there watching the game and then I’m also on the app watching another game,” he said. “If it’s somewhere I can’t watch it, I go by live play-by-play. I’m always there somehow.”
Toya, on the other hand, can be found at games with her face buried in a book, needing her husband to nudge her when one of her sons enters the game.
Sibling rivalries persist
Not much has changed since they were kids. When Justin, Jrue and Aaron get together, Toya said her sons act like they’re at a camp or in a zoo. Bowling, cards and front-yard games can all get heated — they just also now include their wives.
Justin’s wife, Shekinah, and Jrue’s wife, Lauren, who played on the United States women’s national soccer team from 2007 to 2015, share the family award for most competitive. During a camping trip, the Holidays even made a rule requiring all husbands and wives to be paired on the same team, just to keep the peace.
“We’ve always been competitive, so now that we’re older, we know how to be competitive and not get too angry with the other person,” Justin said. “But sometimes it’s tough when you’re up against your spouse. Some fights might break out here and there.”
That said, they don’t expect any fights when their NBA teams go head to head (Aaron’s Pacers meet Justin’s Bulls first, on Nov. 2, though the teams already played a preseason game on Oct. 10). Unlike family competitions, which can bring out the worst in some, the brothers said that facing your own blood in the NBA is no big deal.
“I think it’s just going to be another game,” Aaron said.
Justin and Jrue — who have already played each other at this level — agreed, though Jrue added a wrinkle: You want your brother to have a good game but your team to win.
“Going up against each other, there is no backing down,” said Jrue, the most successful Holiday brother in the NBA so far, making both an All-Star Game (2013) and an all-defensive first team (2018).
Toya and Shawn don’t know exactly what it will be like having all three of their sons in the league, but they imagine it can’t be much different from having two. There is one change coming: Instead of spending opening night at Jrue’s game, they will head to the Pacers’ first game to see Aaron’s debut. The Holidays plan on splitting their time between Bulls, Pelicans and Pacers games and want to attend every game that passes through California (they live in Rancho Cucamonga).
Toya and Shawn understand that Justin, Jrue and Aaron downplay their head-to-head matchups, but they share the excitement and anticipation of seeing their youngest join his brothers on basketball’s biggest stage.
“I’m just thankful and happy for them, all three of them,” Shawn said, “They all have jobs. Good jobs. It’s an indescribable feeling. You have to experience it. You have three kids who have worked their butts off to succeed and it doesn’t always work out that way. I know we are truly blessed.”
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