Quick editorial comment: Yes, It's a national holiday. Nov. 13th, the day Felix Unger was asked to leave his house... and yes, that request came from his wife. (Aristophanes? Ridiculous.)
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming....
BOSTON: When the Chicago Bulls used the #9 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft to select Joakim Noah out of the University of Florida, they took a little heat from the hometown media. Noah had a couple of NCAA championships with the very deep Florida Gators and was viewed as a somewhat limited talent and poor shooter.
I took a liking of Noah when he played as a local NYC/Brooklyn high school player in 2003. I remember first hearing about him when his Poly Prep team matched up against John McEnroe's son at Trinity and Massimo Lopes of La Gazzetta dello Sport of Italy came over to do a story on the sons of tennis stars Yannick and John playing 'the new game' of basketball instead of tennis. Of course, Noah was quite a star and Johnnie Mc's son, Kevin, barely played in Poly's 60-30 win which wasn't much of a contest, obviously.
So, fast forward to 2007 and an NBA colleague, Mike Bantom, pulled me aside at the draft and asked me what I thought of Noah. I smiled and said. I love his personality and his game, but I'm not sure which of those will be his upside and which will be his downfall. I hope, they both pan out and he turns into a real player.
I knew he needed to work on his footwork and his shot, but I thought he could overcome those obvious deficiencies with his incredible work ethic and his ability to "win" and contribute. He reminded me of a much better version of former St. John's power forward Jayson Williams, except with smarts of Noah and model Mom, instead of the knuckle-head gene that my Redmen colleague struts.
Bantom smiled, then told me a story of how Noah walked into the Media Training session of our rookie orientation and exclaimed, "Hey Mike, I got this S*#t!" - Noah reminding everyone within listening range that he grew up with his Dad dealing with the media from around the world on a regular weekly basis, not to mention the scrutiny from a few runs to the NCAA Final Four.
That draft was my last official night as an NBA employee and, after some refreshments and toasts, Bantom and I enjoyed a cigar together out in front of the Westin Times Square. We were just doing what we loved to do and always did, talking basketball, the draft, the future Olympics, life and times, just as we did at hotels around the world ever since Bantom joined the NBA in 1989 in Rome, after his rock-solid playing career. I like Mike even more than I admire Noah, Mike being the great St. Joe's star of circa '72 and a member of the US Olympic team robbed of its gold medal by William Jones of FIBA. Ahem. (Don't get me started...)
The night ended, we packed it in and all went our separate ways until I ran into Joakim Noah last spring when the Bulls played the Boston Celtics in one of the most compelling, hard-fought, competitive and exciting playoff series in NBA history. Noah was largely the reason for Chicago's spirit and determination as he gave the Celtics fits inside while the likes of Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon scored from the perimeter.
I sat with Joakim when the Bulls practiced in Boston and we had a great chat as his personality flowed openly with the fact he knew I had followed his game since HS and also recognized my affiliation with many of his French-speaking buddies. He even put up with my attempts to parlez vous some francais with broken high school French lessons long gone in the back room of my memory.
Well, now we come to today: And, along comes Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune when he filed this video story on the progress of one _ Joakim Noah. Enjoy the salsa and sports pages, Rick. I could have saved you the nacho chips of embarrassment if you had only consulted with me and a few others who enjoyed the constant progress of one of the best players and personalities in the game today... yes, one of the real best players in the game. Not Lebron, Not D-Wade, Not Kevin Durant, but JNoah.
Smile, listen to the joy in his voice and communicate with Joakim Noah's eyes and spirit. If you get it and get him, you will begin to enjoy what I was able to learn back in 2003:
PS: I was really hoping that Noah would play for the United States in national team competition, but I hear that he is signing up for the French NT and will be one of the talented, young players looking to upset the USA in the 2010 Worlds and 2012 Olympics. That is a huge loss to the USA. Noah is just the kind of player who can be the "heart, soul and glue" to a national team.