Imagine a room—or a gentleman’s lounge, if you will—with leather couches and wood details. Inside it is an exclusive group, a who’s who of the realest, most intense players in NBA history. It’s a member’s only club, exclusive to a clique of frequently T’d up guys thanks to their aggressiveness and outspoken nature. There’s no secret handshake or password to get in, only an attitude and, of course, a solid game to back it up. No game, no entry.
I see OG Kevin Garnett and OG Rasheed Wallace in there. Gary Payton is in there. Draymond Green, who talked his way to get inside, is in there. So is DeMarcus Cousins. Enes Kanter has been trying to get in, but no.
I imagine Joakim Noah, who turned 33 years old today, to be in there too, but his membership was revoked fairly recently, around the same time he signed a four-year, $72 million contract to play for the New York Knicks. Now, he’s just a story that the guys tell each other, an urban legend, a cautionary tale about a fallen comrade. Remember when Jo was here? Remember when he racked up triple doubles? Remember when he called LeBron a bitch?
There was a time when having a “Noah is one of the greatest players to ever wear a Bulls uniform” take isn’t at all laughable, which is a weird thing to type because when you talk Bulls, the only names that really matter are those raised to the rafters: Love, Sloan, Jordan, Pippen. Okay, maybe Rose too (if you whisper it really, really softly).
But for a brief moment in Bulls history, between 2012 and 2014, Noah seemed like his rise to the top was cosmic. He was already doing Nikola Jokic things before there was a Nikola Jokic. Here’s a snapshot of the beautiful things he did during that stretch:
- Recorded his first triple-double vs the Bucks in 2012, also the first triple-double by a Bulls center since 1977
- Dropped career-highs of 30 points and 23 rebounds
- Named to the East All-Stars in 2013, becoming the Bulls’ first All-Star center since 1982
- Delivered this astonishing anomaly: 23 points, 21 rebounds, and 11 BLOCKS (Shout out to Kai Sotto)! The only players who have done this: Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shawn Bradley (LOL), Elvin Hayes, and Shaquille O’Neal. The only player to do this with 65 percent shooting: Joakim Noah
- Named to the East All-Stars in 2014
- Won NBA Defensive Player of the Year, the only Bull to win after Jordan in ’88
- Called LeBron James a “bitch”
You can’t talk about Noah without talking about his many altercations with The King. I mean, they even have their own beef compilation video on YouTube. The level of pettiness (or actual dislike) between Noah and James might never be attained again; the Westbrooks and the Embiids of today’s game can only try.
This is how you know it’s real: After James posterized Noah in a tight playoff game, he unnecessarily stared down his man-bunned nemesis, probably said something mean, and was called for a tech. Noah, in retaliation, clapped back at James and, eloquently translating his clap back to the seven most poetic words ever said to The King: “F–k you, you still a bitch, though.”
It was a defining Joakim Noah moment. It would be also be his last Joakim Noah moment.
His playoff battles with James—that resulted to playoff losses—have taken a toll on him and what they’re trying to achieve in Chicago. A coaching change and a new direction for the franchise was it all took. At the start of the 2015 season, Noah lost his starting spot to Nikola Mirotic, a guy who lowkey represented how the league has evolved. Mirotic spaced the floor and shot 3s, while Noah battled injuries.
From being a starting fixture, Noah started only 2 games in the 29 games that he played that season. The attitude was still there, but gone are the triple doubles. Time to move on from Chicago.
Carrying a lot of scars, Noah returned to his hometown of New York for a fresh start to the 2016 season. But, as Knicks fans know, the wall is always crumbling in New York, and it was only a matter of time before Noah lost his place. Despite starting in all 46 games he played in, his 5 points and 8 rebounds per game were forgettable. For the first time since his rookie year, he failed to average a block per game.
If this piece is taking a sad, boring turn, that’s because sad and boring is exactly what Noah’s career arc is turning into since he joined the Knicks. Today’s Noah has been reduced to a befallen villain, like an angry, brooding Michael Shannon-type character, left to wonder at what went wrong.
Things might be changing though. After a reportedly ugly shoving and shouting match with Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek, Noah was banished from the team and took an indefinite leave for “personal reasons,” which is NBA code for he outta here.
Several teams, including the Thunder, Warriors, and Timberwolves (where his former Bulls coach and former Bulls teammates are flourishing), have reportedly expressed interest in tapping the services of the healthy, former Defensive Player of the Year. What’s Noah’s next move? At this very, very low point, a move to any team (except maybe Phoenix) will do.
He’s a forgotten member of an elite club, banished from the room where guys like KG and Sheed and the others are chilling. He’s outside of the league and not part of the conversation. His last, relevant highlight was getting dunked on by LeBron James. But something tells me Noah won’t take this sitting down. He still has a few seasons (or at least a few games?) left. His body is okay and his mouth wants to say something.
F–k you, you still a bitch, though.
Photo from Getty Images