Bulls

Retiring a Bull Fitting for Fan-Favorite Noah

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I’ve never known a time when I wasn’t a Chicago Bulls fan, so Bulls players have always been amongst my favorite athletes.

But I’m not going to lie– I haven’t always been a fan of Joakim Noah. 

As someone who has never been that into college basketball, I didn’t have a preexisting impression of him when he was drafted by the Bulls in 2007. I wasn’t familiar with his game, and I hadn’t seen any of his games at Florida — not even clips or highlights from either of the back-to-back championships. But being selected as the ninth overall pick in the draft was more than enough for 12-year-old me to hold high expectations for him.

But those first two seasons, I was underwhelmed by Noah.

He wasn’t impressive. He was inconsistent and, sometimes, even unprofessional. After all, he was benched, as unanimously voted by his very own teammates, for a game.

My dislike for him was enough to make me dislike the number 13. The number is generally considered unlucky, but I never subscribed to that idea. I actually had no particular feelings about the number before, but I eventually did. And it was all thanks to Joakim Noah.

In fact, a year later when I had to choose which number I wanted for my volleyball uniform, my options were between 13 and 15. I purposely chose 15, because 13 was for Joakim Noah. I did not want his number. Instead, I left 13 for my twin sister to have and teased her: “Haha, you get Joakim’s number, and I get John Salmons’!”

Looking back on that time is strange for me, though, because Noah became a fan favorite. Despite my early sentiments toward him, count me as one fan who (eventually) saw Noah as a Bulls favorite. It’s why the news that Noah is retiring — planning to do so as a Bull — just feels right.

Despite a rocky start to his Bulls tenure, Noah became one of the franchise’s best, most impactful and memorable players during his nine seasons in Chicago.

He brought unparalleled emotion and energy. He had an unconventional jump shot, aptly nicknamed “the tornado,” that somehow managed to be effective enough. He learned to be a disciplined defender and became a terrific rebounder.

Noah was the classic example of the kind of player you love to have on your team but hate to have on the opposing team.

BREAKTHROUGH VERSUS BOSTON

Just as how the 2009 playoff series against the No. 2-seeded Boston Celtics was a turning point for the No. 7-seeded Bulls, it was also a turning point for Noah. The seven-game series gave a legitimate look at what Bulls fans could come to expect from the near seven-footer: a rebounding machine who, above all, was a high-energy, passionate player you wanted on your side.

He averaged 10.1 points and 13.1 rebounds while shooting 51.0% from the field, proving that he could be consistent and effective when it mattered most.

But if just one moment from that series had to define Noah’s impact in it, then it would be the iconic steal and slam in game six.

The effort, the energy, the emotion. It’s a perfect example of who Noah was as a player and why he became a fan favorite.

POINT NOAH AND LEAGUE RECOGNITION

For the Bulls, the 2010s were filled with a lot of highs and lows. There was Derrick Rose being named the league’s youngest ever MVP, but there were also his multiple knee injuries. There was the hiring of Tom Thibodeau and the league-best 62-20 record his first season, but there was also the firing of Thibodeau and the clashing with management.

Throughout that roller-coaster ride, Noah experienced his best years as an NBA player. He was named an All-Star in both the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.

When Rose was out for most of the 2013-14 season, Noah did a tremendous job filling that void, embracing the opportunity. During that season, he earned Defensive Player of the Year honors, but his impact on the offensive end was monumental as well. As the team’s point center, Noah led the Bulls with 5.4 assists per game– 431 total assists throughout the regular season.

Watching Noah thrive was a delight and helped provide some hope during a time when the Bulls’ championship hopes continually dwindled.

AMONGST THE GREATS

After spending nine seasons as a Bull, it was inevitable for Noah to make an impact. But that impact made him into one of the Bulls’ all-time bests, as his name can be found on some of the franchise’s career leaders lists.

No. 9 in games, minutes and blocks.

No. 4 in total and defensive rebounds.

No. 1 in offensive rebounds.

No. 3 in blocks.

Something often heard from many players who have the opportunity to compete for the Bulls is how much of an honor it is to play for such a storied franchise. But it’s a whole other thing for players to accompany all-time Bulls greats like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Bob Love and Artis Gilmore.

Noah has the honor of the latter. Regardless of how his career went after being trading from Chicago, it’s what he did as a Bull that will ultimately define his career.

ALWAYS A CHARACTER

Failing to acknowledge just how much of a character Noah was — both on and off the court — would be an incomplete reflection on his career with the Bulls.

Nicknames are common in professional sports, often making the athlete have a cooler demeanor. But Noah was known to give his teammates fun, silly nicknames from Kirky Worky (Kirk Hinrich) to Tajy-woo (Taj Gibson) to Snelly Cat (Tony Snell). He was also known for being a good interview, offering colorful commentary backed by amusing honesty that has given him memorable lines.

There was the reveal that Kevin Garnett went from being his childhood favorite to being a player he disliked. There was the time he dissed Cleveland, saying “I never heard anyone say I’m going to Cleveland on vacation.” There was the time he called the LeBron James-led Miami Heat “Hollywood as hell.”

There was the time he learned why the Bulls’ now defunct circus trip was called such. There was the time he understandably complained about April snow in Chicago.

And how could anyone forget the iconic on-court moment of Noah finding great joy in Chris Bosh yelling at the scapegoat Mario Chalmers?

In that moment, he might as well have been every non-Heat fan, because it’s how we all felt. And it’s what has made him such a favorite.

A FAN FAVORITE FOR THE PEOPLE

One of the best things about Noah was how he felt like the embodiment of the Bulls fan base and the city of Chicago.

He wasn’t a flashy superstar player. He struggled with injuries throughout his career (if you mention plantar fasciitis, Noah is the first person I think of) but overcame them to make an impact. He was intense, passionate and loyal, always hustling and working hard not for himself but for the sake of his team. That’s something everyday, non-athletic normal people can relate to.

Even someone like myself, a person who is generally quiet and reserved, could see part of myself in him. Because the way Noah played the game and expressed himself as a professional athlete and competitor is similar to how I feel as a fan.

Whenever Noah will officially retire as a Bull remains to be seen. In fall 2019, Noah’s longtime Bulls teammate Luol Deng retired in a similar fashion, signing with Chicago to retire as a member of the franchise. The organization later honored Deng at a later game, and it’s the same respect and recognition Noah deserves.

So when that time comes, whether it’s next season or next year, may we all honor Noah by putting our hair in a bun (if possible) and proudly sporting 13, because it’s a great number that represents heart, hustle and muscle.

Follow us on Twitter @BullsLead for the latest Bulls news and insight. 

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About Ashley Wijangco

Ashley is a Filipina-American writer and Illinois graduate based in the Chicago suburbs who has nearly a decade's worth of sports writing experience. She writes about the Bulls and general NBA content for TLSM. Twitter: @wijangco12

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