Noah on the outside looking in, but not for long
By Adam Fluck | 01.17.2011
In eight days, Joakim Noah will have the pin removed from his injured right thumb. It will represent the light at the end of the tunnel for the Bulls center, who will then begin the rehab process with the hopes of a quick return to the court.
Noah’s surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb took place on Dec. 16 with a timetable of eight to ten weeks before he’d return. Once the pin is removed on Jan. 25, Noah will work to regain his hand’s strength and reacquire its mobility.
“It’s been long and sometimes frustrating not being able to be out there with my teammates,” said Noah on Monday. “Physically, I feel pretty good. I’ve been doing a lot of cardio and working out. I feel strong and I’ll be ready to get back and help the team.”
While he wasn’t sure of the timetable from that point on, Noah indicated that the hand would be tested fairly quickly after the pin is removed. And though eager to get back on the court, he knows the rehab won’t happen overnight and wants to take it one day at a time. But it’s interesting to note that exactly ten weeks after his surgery, the Bulls will host the Miami Heat on Feb. 24 in the team’s second meeting of the regular season.
“I’m just trying to control what I can control right now,” said Noah of a possible return date. “I’m all about getting this pin out of my finger and getting my hand back to 100 percent. Hopefully it’s before that because I would love to play in that game.”
Noah, in the meantime, has been pleased with the Bulls’ success in his absence. He attends home games but has not travelled to away contests, opening up his schedule a bit—which is why Noah was at the United Center on Monday.
Noah invited about a dozen children to join him in the Bulls’ locker room and watch Chicago’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day matinee victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. Students from Chicago Bulls College Prep and William H. Brown Elementary School, both located on the city’s west side, were among those on hand to take in the game.
When Noah contacted the team’s community relations department to set up the gathering, he requested it not be publicized. He simply saw it as more of an opportunity to spend time with local children, given he has more free time. But he may have had a hidden agenda.
“This was as much for me as it was them,” said Noah afterwards, admitting the injury gets him down and saying the children helped lift his spirits. “I just wanted to spend time with the kids and let them know that I was once in their position too. Growing up in a city environment is something that is pretty difficult. There are a lot of distractions out there. I wanted to let them know they should stay focused on their dreams and don’t let anybody get in the way.”
Noah has said that being injured allows an athlete to put things into perspective and provided him with a new appreciation of the game. Given the Bulls’ 18-5 mark over their last 23 games, coupled with Chicago now leading the NBA in opponent field goal percentage, he likes what he sees.
“When you’re injured, you have to take a step back and see the big picture,” said Noah. “It’s like you’re on the outside looking in. Being in that position, I feel like we have a lot of potential on this team.”
On Monday, he watched as Derrick Rose recorded his first NBA triple-double.
"Derrick is a legit MVP candidate,” said Noah of Rose. "There’s no question about that. He’s really stepped his game up. I’m proud to be his teammate."
“Derrick is a legit MVP candidate,” said Noah of Rose. “There’s no question about that. He’s really stepped his game up. You see the progress he’s made since his rookie year, and it makes you very proud of the way he’s been playing. I’m proud to be his teammate. You see him at the end of the game, guarding guys like Dwyane Wade in key situations. With the progress he’s made not just at the offensive end, but defensively, I give him a lot of credit.”
When asked to describe the team’s identity and the reason it’s managed the third best record in the Eastern Conference to date at 28-13, trailing only the Celtics and Heat, Noah didn’t hesitate.
“It’s the understanding it’s not about one player,” stated Noah. “It’s about everyone on this team and that they contribute. It shows we’re a tough, resilient group. Since Day 1, we’ve dealt with injuries but we never give up. Our defense will continue to improve and we have a lot of offensive firepower as well. You look at what Luol Deng has been bringing to the table all year. He’s been very solid for us. Guys are getting better every day and we have a great coaching staff.”
Until Noah is back in the lineup, the Bulls will remain a work in progress. After all, Chicago has yet to see its top three players share the floor at 100 percent. When Carlos Boozer made his season debut on Dec. 1 after missing the team’s first 15 games with a broken hand, Noah was already playing with a torn ligament in his thumb, suffered four days earlier in Sacramento.
So how does he envision the pair fitting together in the low post at full strength?
“I’m hoping we’re pretty dominant,” said Noah. “That’s definitely what I want it to be. But there are a lot of good teams out there. When I come back, I’ll contribute the best I can. The best part about it is that we have the potential to be a very, very good team, one of the top teams in the East. The goal is to win a championship. We have a ways to go, but it’s something that is reachable. We need to stay driven and hungry. If we have that attitude, I think good things will happen for this club.”
Noah invited about a dozen children to join him in the Bulls’ locker room and watch Chicago’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day matinee victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.