Former UCLA Bruin Jrue Holiday is averaging 19.4 point and 8.9 assists per… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
The top plays from the NBA's All-Star game invariably repeated themselves in the boy's front yard every year.
As a preteen he would throw the ball off the backboard and dunk it, pretending to be Tracy McGrady.
So what if the goal was only 7 feet and sometimes the kid's more athletic friends would execute the moves better than he did? He wasn't going to let anyone tell him he couldn't live his immeasurable dream.
More than a decade later, Jrue Holiday will head to Houston perfectly content to be himself.
The former UCLA point guard is the youngest All-Star in Philadelphia 76ers history, one of the game's top players already at 22.
He's probably never going to rank among the league's elite in the swagger department.
Holiday was so worried about being left off the All-Star team that he attended a Philadelphia Flyers game with his father, Shawn, and his fiancee, former UCLA soccer standout Lauren Cheney, the night the Eastern Conference reserves were announced.
The evening was a success all the way around. The Flyers defeated the New York Rangers and the normally stoic Holidays broke into wide smiles when Mike Preston, the 76ers' director of public relations, informed Jrue that he had made the team.
"We don't get excited about much," Shawn Holiday said, "but we got pretty excited about that."
Holiday figures to get plenty of playing time because he will be one of only three guards on the East roster, joining Miami's Dwyane Wade and Cleveland's Kyrie Irving. League officials replaced injured Boston guard Rajon Rondo with Brooklyn center Brook Lopez.
Holiday's fourth NBA season has easily been his best. He is averaging career highs in points (19.4), assists (8.9) and field-goal percentage (.463), ranking among the league's top point guards in each category.
And to think he would be only a rookie had he stayed at UCLA for four years.
"All these experiences I've had," he said, "I wouldn't change it for the world."
He credited a variety of factors for his newfound stardom, including an improved diet and weightlifting program, enhanced playmaking abilities and a directive from the coaching staff starting last season in the playoffs to take at least 15 shots per game.
"That was kind of their way of telling me I needed to score," Holiday said. "That kind of gave me confidence to try and make something happen, put the ball in the basket."
His biggest triumph came in September, when he proposed to Cheney, a two-time Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. women's soccer team whom he met during his one season at UCLA. Holiday placed the engagement ring in a box underneath a shirt in his laundry basket and asked his girlfriend to bring the shirt to him.
When she returned with just the shirt to find him on one knee, Cheney didn't think anything of it. Holiday played it off as if he had bent over to tie his shoe.
"I didn't quite understand what was going on," she said.
Holiday then asked her to bring everything out of the basket. She found the box but didn't open it, figuring it might be just a pair of earrings, until returning to find him on one knee again.
"My heart was racing," said Holiday, whose wedding is scheduled for July in Southern California. "It was a good day."
Holiday has had plenty of those lately. Before the season he signed a four-year contract that could pay him as much as $46 million, meaning he will probably spend at least the first seven years of his pro career in Philadelphia.
The 76ers (20-26) have stumbled with center Andrew Bynum sidelined by knee injuries, interspersing Holiday's dream season with occasional night terrors. His team's struggles were the primary reason Holiday thought he might be passed over for the All-Star team in favor of Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings.
"Losing definitely does stink," Holiday said. "I mean, you can't really enjoy some of the games that you've had. Like I think I've had a career-high night or whatever and we still lost. I'd much rather have the win and had fewer points."
The All-Star weekend Feb. 15-17 will be a family affair for the Holidays. Jrue's older brother, Justin, a guard with the Idaho Stampede, will compete in the Development League's three-point shootout.
Accompanying the siblings will be their parents; brother Aaron, a sophomore guard at North Hollywood Campbell Hall High; and sister Lauren, a freshman guard at UCLA, in addition to Cheney.
Jrue hopes to follow his fiancee to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics, fulfilling a mutual dream.
"The Olympics are such an amazing feeling and you can't describe it to people if they haven't experienced it," Cheney said. "I would love for him to experience it and share that together."
Holiday watched Cheney win gold last summer in London, sparking a jumble of emotions.
"I was excited because I wanted to experience that," he said, "and I was a little jealous because I wanted to experience that. But it was inspirational."
Kind of like a kid playing in the front yard, realizing that he's limited only by his imagination.