Joakim Noah stood under the glare of a spotlight, a position he’s familiar with as one of the star players for the NBA team in the nation’s third-largest city.
The Chicago Bulls’ All-Star center was filming commercials for Kids Foot Locker with three child actors. It was tedious work, the constant pauses — “Line up your shoes, please” — and retakes causing a series of five 30-second commercials to take hours to film.
But Noah is used to stops and starts. Since being drafted ninth overall by Chicago in 2007, his career has been sliced and diced by injuries. It has come as no surprise that he overcame these obstacles to become one of the best at his position.
Noah, who possesses citizenship in three countries (France, Sweden, and the United States) has sports in his blood. He’s the son of Yannick Noah, a tennis star from France who won the French Open in 1983. And he’s the grandchild of Zacharie Noah, who won the Coupe de France in 1961 as a professional soccer player for Cameroon.
Growing up in New York City, with occasional stays in Paris, Joakim enjoyed playing basketball, swimming, and watching Paris Saint-Germain, a French soccer team, and the New York Knicks. The young Noah could walk to Madison Square Garden from his home. “It’s ironic, isn’t it, how life turns out,” he says with a laugh. “Michael Jordan used to make me cry so much when I was a kid. But now I play for the Bulls.”
Before reaching the pros, Noah, a four-star recruit, played college hoops at the University of Florida, where he won two national championships. He still hasn’t entirely left those three years behind. “Most of us [NBA players] played in college, so we all root for our teams, and when the games go on we always bet against one another,” he says. “If your school plays against another one of your teammate’s schools, it’s a mandatory bet.”
Noah’s alma mater did not make the men’s NCAA tournament this year. Who does he think will win? “I’m not going to lie — Kentucky looks pretty good,” he says. “You know, I want to see Kentucky play against Duke because I want to see Jahlil [Okafor of Duke] play against [Karl-Anthony] Towns [of Kentucky]. It’ll be interesting to see those two get after it in a big game.”
Noah is now 30 and in his eighth season with the Bulls, a year in which he has seen fewer minutes because of knee soreness. Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau is currently limiting Noah’s playing time to no more than 32 minutes in each game in an effort to keep the star center healthy.
Nevertheless, Noah made his second All-Star team this year, and on March 23 the Bulls clinched a playoff berth with a 98–86 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. “It feels really good [to have made the playoffs], but obviously we want to win a championship, so I think that’s the most important thing right now, just staying focused,” he says.
Noah argued that the Bulls are the toughest team to beat in a seven-game series. “I just think that our depth is unmatched,” he explains. “We have a lot of good players on our team, so it’s going to be interesting to see how Coach Thibodeau uses all these weapons in a way that works for the team.”
The playoffs are on the horizon, and the burden rests squarely on Noah’s shoulders. Will he carry the Bulls to their first title since 1998? The spotlight shines brighter than ever.
Photos: YouTube, Will Foster