Joakim Noah is at peace with walking away from the game

Before Thursday's game between the Bulls and the Knicks, Joakim Noah sat down with reporters to discuss walking away from the game, fatherhood, and lessons learned from both Tom Thibodeau and Billy Donovan.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

It's officially over for Joakim Noah now, but it's also just the beginning.

"My days are great," Joakim Noah was saying before Thursday night's game with the New York Knicks. "A lot less anxiety. I sleep a lot better. I'm getting married this summer; I'm really excited about that. I take my kids to school. It's a slower pace. But I love it. I have a lot of things, I have a lot of purpose. I work with my foundation. I'm really excited to be able to come back to Chicago and do some things to help here. Work with the Bulls on some initiatives to do well here. Do some things for the kids. I'm working closely with NBA Africa as well, watching the development of basketball over on the continent, working with Luol (Deng). And that's something I'm really proud of as well. So I feel like basketball, especially the Bulls, have given me an unbelievable platform, and now I'm able to move to the next step."

And knowing Joakim Noah you know he's going to do it with pride, passion and purpose.

The one time Defensive Player of the Year and multiple Bulls All-Star who played nine seasons with the Bulls was welcomed back Thursday for an unofficial retirement ceremony, Noah a Bull-for-a-day to retire as a Bull and named an ambassador for the team.

The Bulls played tributes to Noah during the game, invited in former teammates and made sure the game was against the Knicks, featuring former coach Tom Thibodeau and teammates Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson.

Thabo Sefolosha came from Switzerland and Noah's dad from Africa. Other former Bulls who came to support and honor Noah included Deng, Carlos Boozer, Brad Miller, Kirk Hinrich, Keith Bogans, Rick Brunson, Aaron Gray, Nazr Mohammed, Ed Pinckney, Kurt Thomas, Ben Gordon, Mike Dunleavy, Brian Scalabrine, Omer Asik, Bobby Portis, Randy Brown, Pete Myers, Cliff Levingston and Artis Gilmore.

"It's very special to be able to share this with my old teammates and my family and have some closure and just appreciate the great memories," Noah said. "It's just a great feeling just to see my dad with a smile on his face, my mom with a smile on her face and my kids. My kids didn't get to see me play here, and these were really special times, so I'm just really happy (to have) a moment."

The Bulls had a dinner for Noah, friends and family Wednesday and celebration with some 20,000 Thursday.

Joakim Noah was honored for his retirement at the United Center on Thursday night against the Knicks.

Joakim Noah was honored for his retirement at the United Center on Thursday night against the Knicks.

The often insouciant Noah met with reporters before the game wearing a rainbow bucket hat and purple shirt. Still modest compared to his draft day seersucker tuxedo outfit. But nothing about Noah's memories are routine.

"Obviously, I miss the competition and I miss the locker room," said Noah. "But when your body tells you it's time to go, it's time to go. So you have to be honest with yourself. I shot every bullet in my gun and I have no regrets. I gave it everything I got. And you know what, yesterday it felt great to just spend some time with teammates I hadn't seen in a long time, and I feel like that is what it's all about. Being able to talk about the memories and the good times, the hard times.

"I look at Kirk Hinrich's face and right away I was thinking about Game 2 in the Celtics series," Noah recalled about the classic seven gamer in 2009. "I messed up an assignment on a switch and Ray Allen hit the three, and we talked about it (Wednesday) and I swear I had tears in my eyes just talking to him about it because that's how much I cared about him. You know, I was like, 'Damn, I let Cap down.' So many guys I just think about moments like that where you have so much respect for somebody that, you're teammates, and it was just like I just didn't want to let him down. I haven't spoke to Cap in a long time and it was just like so many really dope moments."

Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah together at an alumni event the night before Chicago's game against the Knicks.

Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah together at an alumni event the night before Chicago's game against the Knicks.

Like in the second quarter Thursday when Noah was introduced to a standing ovation, Rose and Gibson on the floor with a gestures of admiration and respect.

"It's great, man, coming back," Rose said earlier in the day after Knicks practice. "Me and Joakim's relationship has always been pretty tight, pretty close. To see him get celebrated tonight, that's huge. A lot of my friends, I wasn't their favorite player when we played. It was Joakim. For him, everything that he gave to this franchise, the way that he gave his all to the game, it means a lot. I'm happy to be here tonight to celebrate it. Knowing that it's deeper than basketball. Our families are pretty close. My mom and his mom. Even in New York, everything that I do is based around like his friends helping out, his family helping out, his best friend Matt is always around. My daughter and his daughter are best friends now. It came full circle. It's crazy that I'm in New York now where he grew up. It's perfect."

Not that Noah is going to remain idle, but he's not coming back to the sidelines.

"I don't mess with coaches," said Noah, who wasn't always the easiest to coach, if also always a favorite for the way he competed. "Coach (Billy) Donovan is like a father figure to me. To be a coach you have to be a little bit sick. When you're not feeling it you have to motivate a group of men to go out there and get the job done, and that's a tough job. It's never something I was attracted to. I was more interested with working with kids and things of that nature. At the pro level, it's too hard, because the business, there's too much other things going on that I'm not really interested in. "Thibs?" Noah responded to a question with a laugh. "Yeah, he's sick for sure. But I love him. I love him and it's great to be here today for this game because Thibs and Coach Donovan are two father figures to me, two guys I learned a lot from. Thibs would always tell me, ‘You have your house in order?' When Thibs became the head coach, I was probably the guy who spent the most time with him. We worked out every day and those workouts were probably the hardest workouts of my life. I've never been so prepared and he'd always ask me, ‘Do you have your house in order?' I didn't know what that meant at the time, and now that I'm done, I understand what that means now. It's something that resonates to me every day. Do you have your house in order? I think about my wife, about my kids, about what I can do for them. There are a lot of life lessons in basketball. Coach Donovan would always tell me live in the moment, live in the moment, next play, next play. It's just another life lesson I carry in my life. A lot of lessons. When things were great, just never get too high, never get too low and that was always my problem. My problem is always like I couldn't sleep after wins, I was always too excited. And when we lost I would get depressed. I was an emotional roller coaster. I have a little more stability now with that part of my life. But emotionally, it was a lot. Especially today, I'm seeing a lot of familiar faces, people that I shared a lot of special times with. Stay in the moment, don't get caught up in what's going to happen next. Those are two messages I carry from my coaches."

Tom Thibodeau

Tom Thibodeau and Joakim Noah as members of the Chicago Bulls.

Having seen Noah play you know he left everything on the court.

"I'm somebody who had some really good moments in the NBA; I'm also someone who had some really low moments in the NBA," Noah acknowledged. "I've been really happy, I've been very embarrassed. I felt a lot of emotions in this game."

Though there is a bit of a void, that elusive championship he came closest to with Rose in his prime.

"I really wanted to win a championship," said Noah. "That's why I played the game. I think that I realized later on I was chasing something that it didn't make sense anymore, the sacrifice that goes into being a champion. I didn't feel it the same. It was harder when my daughter was born (five years ago) and when my son was born. I wasn't ready to make those sacrifices anymore the same way that I was when I was playing with the Bulls. When that happened, when I felt that way, then I knew it was time to get away and that (2020 season) bubble, too; that bubble sucked. You guys can have that."

But Chicago had Jo.

"The energy of this place (United Center) brought out a crazy side of me," Noah admitted. "There were times in this building where I didn't feel my legs when I was running up and down the court. That's how hype I was, and you can't replicate those feelings in anything else in life. That kind of of adrenaline. Even just driving on Ogden right now and making that left turn, I was, ‘Oh my god.' These feelings they are hard to describe. I feel like it was really a blessing to be able to have that for eight, nine years, was really special. It was strong. I'm somebody who has a lot of experience and hopefully I can share that with the younger generation and just be at peace, just be at peace."

Jo, go in peace.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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