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NBA title and Olympic gold: Jrue Holiday and Khris Middelton join ultra-exclusive club

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SAITAMA, Japan — Jrue Holiday bathed in streamers and champagne on the night of July 20, and over the next 17 days, he rode a wave of adrenaline. Less than 48 hours later, he rode through downtown Milwaukee an NBA champ. Less than 48 hours after that, he jetted to Japan. And here, less than two weeks after he landed, he stood in the bowels of the Saitama Super Arena reliving this remarkable story.

It began with an NBA championship, and then a draining trans-Pacific flight, and then an Olympic debut the day of an after-midnight arrival at the team hotel.

It concluded on Saturday with a gold medal and “man,” Holiday realized as he rehashed all of this, “that's a hell of a summer.”

Four players had previously won NBA titles and Olympic golds in the same year. (Two of them are Michael Jordan and LeBron James.) But none of them had done men’s basketball’s golden double in a span of two and a half weeks. None had arrived in an Olympic host city on the day of their first game. None had played the type of on-ball defense Holiday did on Saturday in Team USA’s 87-82 victory over France.

As Holiday leaned up against a railing afterward, Jayson Tatum approached from behind.

“Yo, this man's a Super Champ,” Tatum said, his arm around his teammate. “Super Champion, you feel me? Yes sir!”

Nine months ago, Holiday was merely a 30-year-old NBA vet with one All-Star appearance and zero conference finals trips. He was languishing on a New Orleans Pelicans team with little hope of changing that.

Jrue Holiday, right, and Kevin Durant led the way as USA men's basketball beat France to win Olympic gold. (Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Jrue Holiday, right, and Kevin Durant led the way as USA men's basketball beat France to win Olympic gold. (Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Then, in late November, he was traded to the Bucks. Between the NBA’s March All-Star break and this weekend, he played 62 basketball games, with no break longer than a week, en route to a breakthrough NBA title.

He arrived in Japan four days later and played in Team USA’s opener with precisely zero practices under his belt. His teammates could’ve been forgiven for expecting heavy legs and lethargic performances. But did they?

“Um, no,” Draymond Green said adamantly. “Not at all. Jrue is one of the best defenders in our league, probably the best on-ball defender that the NBA has to offer. Him coming to this team, and keeping his commitment, was one of the main reasons we're sitting here as gold medalists.”

Holiday was Team USA’s second-most influential player in Saturday’s final. He stifled Evan Fournier, one of the stars of the tournament to this point. He forced two pivotal second-half turnovers, and punctuated one with a dunk himself. He scrapped for an offensive rebound off a missed free throw with 30 seconds left that all but sealed the U.S. victory.

“When you got a guy like that that you can put on every team's best guard, it makes it difficult for them,” Green said. He pointed out that Fournier shot 5-of-15. “A lot of that had to do with Jrue's ball pressure, Everybody he guarded, he made them uncomfortable. And when you got that type of guy at the point of attack, for the rest of us that's behind him, it makes it a lot easier.

“And he was incredible on the offensive end,” Green continued, and at this point he was full-on gushing. “The defense is kinda like a fence. And you need that guy who can bend the fence. And [Jrue] bent the fence, every game. And then we got the great one [Kevin Durant] who comes behind him and scores all the buckets. But bending that fence is important. And he bent every team's fence from the time he stepped off the plane.”

Holliday hadn’t quite seemed to grasp just how extraordinary his journey had been in the moments after it ended. He high-fived and hugged Durant, and then Khris Middleton, his Bucks teammate who’d done the double alongside him. He was asked 10 minutes later if he knew just how exclusive this “Super Champ” club — which now boasts six members — is.

“I don't,” he said. “I heard Michael did it.” He was right. LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Scottie Pippen (twice) too.

But Michael didn’t fly out right after the title, a reporter mentioned.

“He had some time,” Holiday said with a smile, and then he walked away to go celebrate with some more champagne.

Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 16 slideshow embed
Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 16 slideshow embed

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