Joakim Noah Comes to Cameroon
For Joakim Noah, the 2012-13 NBA season was like no other. With Derrick Rose sidelined for the whole regular season campaign and the Playoffs, the Chicago Bulls center spent the most minutes on the floor (36.8 minutes per game), scored the most points (11.9 per game) and recorded his best rebounding season in his NBA career (11.1 rebounds per game). He was named an NBA All-Star in February and was chosen for the NBA All-Defensive First Team. Noah did not slow down in the Playoffs and led the Bulls in the seven-game first round series against the Brooklyn Nets and the five-game Eastern Conference Semi-Finals – all of that despite playing with a plantar fascitiis injury often causing him enormous pain and limiting his movements on the court.
The Bulls may have lost that Playoff campaign to the eventual NBA Champions Miami Heat, but this couldn’t overshadow Joakim Noah’s most successful individual campaign so far. He could have taken it easy in the offseason and no one would question his right to well-deserved rest, but Noah had other plans. He headed to Africa instead. His destination - Cameroon.
Born to French tennis player and French Open winner Yannick Noah and being a grandson of a former professional Cameroonian football player and the French Cup winner, Zacharie Noah, Joakim has always had sports in his blood. He has grown to become one of the most inspiring basketball players of his generation while always cherishing his African roots.
The Bulls center visited Cameroon to conduct a youth basketball camp in Yaoundé last weekend. Amadou Gallo Fall, NBA Vice President of Development in Africa and development coach Franck Traore joined Noah at the camp. The members of Noah’s closest family, including his father Yannick and his sister Yelena, were also present and supported the Chicago star at the camp hosted on the grounds of the Noah family’s house. More than 25 players ages 14 and younger participated in the three-day event which Noah hope will help the game grow in his grandfather's homeland.
"It was my first annual camp here in Yaoundé," the Bulls center said at the conclusion of the camp. "We had a great time. We're hoping it can benefit the kids and help promote basketball in Cameroon long term."
In addition to learning basketball fundamentals which focused on dribbling, passing, shooting, footwork, rebounding and game scrimmages, the young players also took part in life skills seminars. They learned about the importance of work ethics, the value of sacrifice, respect towards others and the importance of education.
One of the most exciting moments at the camp came on the last day, where five players got a chance to play one-on-one against the Bulls star. Noah could not hide his own excitement during those individual battles on the court and the talented Cameroonian youngsters were not going to take it easy on him. The place was buzzing and the Chicago center admitted later that he picked up some of that high-octane spirit from the youth.
"So many kids came from around the country and hopefully improved," he said. "They brought great energy and attitude. I'm thankful to everyone who was involved."
The three-day camp finished with a Gala Dinner attended by, among others, the Cameroonian Minister of Sport, Adoum Garoua, and Amadou Gallo Fall.
"It was great to see the enthusiasm and passion that all the young players displayed on the court," Fall said. "It was exciting for NBA Africa to be a part of this event and we look forward to working with Joakim on other projects across the continent as we continue our efforts to grow the game of basketball. He is a great ambassador and role model for our game."
It was an emotional weekend for everyone involved. The event was as much about basketball as it was about hope and giving back. For Noah, it was also about acknowledging his African heritage and the journey back to his African roots. And it looks like this extraordinary journey is set to continue, for him, the country of Cameroon and the African continent, for the years to come.