Joakim Noah: The Evolution of the Chicago Bulls Star

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Joakim Noah: The Evolution of the Chicago Bulls Star
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I remember it like it was yesterday.

The year was 2007, and I was at sleep away camp, wondering who the Bulls were going to select ninth overall in the NBA draft. They needed big-man help, and I had two guys in mind—neither of whom was Joakim Noah.

Best-case scenario, I was hoping that Yi Jianlian would fall to the Bulls at No. 9, after I had convinced myself that he was going to be a stud. Phew.

If the Jianlian plan did not work out, I had my sights set on Spencer Hawes, the 7'1" center out of the University of Washington.

Thankfully, the Bulls organization did not listen to me and went a different direction.

They went with Joakim Noah, the colorful, energy-filled center out of the University of Florida. The son of 1983 French Open champion Yannick Noah, Joakim led Florida to two national championships. He was the heart and soul of those two Florida championship teams, and the Bulls were hoping he could mirror that type of success in the NBA.

Immediately after being drafted, Joakim Noah made his presence felt by taking one of the most memorable draft pictures in NBA history. In his all-white suit with a bow tie, Noah shook commissioner David Stern's hand, throwing a peace sign at the camera while showing a smile for the ages.

Joakim Noah had arrived, ladies and gentleman.

It wasn't an easy transition for Noah to the NBA, however. In a dysfunctional season for the Bulls in general, Noah wasn't exactly helping matters, either. After getting into an altercation with assistant coach Ron Adams, Noah was benched the next game in Philadelphia. It was a unanimous vote by his teammates. 

Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Noah had a lot to learn in the NBA and a long way to go before he started getting respect. He finished his rookie season averaging 6.6 points per game and 5.0 rebounds. There were highlights, however, such as March 6, 2008, when Noah put up 13 points and 20 rebounds in a 107-96 victory over the Cavaliers.

In the offseason, Noah took another step back, having an open container of alcohol in addition to marijuana possession. Once again, he had a long way to before earning respect in the NBA.

In his sophomore season in the NBA, strides were made. In the Bulls' epic seven-game series with the Celtics, Noah shined, averaging 10.1 points and 13.1 rebounds per game.

In a series that featured so many breathtaking plays, it was Noah who stole the show in Game 6. With the Bulls facing elimination, the game was tied at 123 with under a minute to play (in triple overtime, I might add). Then, it happened. Noah intercepted Paul Pierce's pass, raced down the court and dunked over Pierce, fouling him out in the process.

It was at that moment that I fell in love with Joakim Noah. His heart, his passion, his intensity all in one play. One monumental play. A play for the ages.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bulls lost that series but found their center of the future. Joakim Noah was here to stay.

In his third season, Noah saw even more strides in his game, averaging a double-double (10.7 points and 11 rebounds) in 64 games. He's never been shy to voice his opinion, and when the Bulls drew the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs, Noah was not afraid to give his two cents about Cleveland.

In the words of Noah, "I've never heard anybody say, 'I'm going to Cleveland on vacation.'"

As to no surprise, those comments did not exactly make Noah a beloved man in Cleveland. His star in Chicago, however, was ever growing.

After losing to the Cavaliers and being eliminated for the second straight season as the No. 8 seed, Bulls management decided to part ways with Vinny Del Negro. It was under Tom Thibodeau that Joakim Noah truly began to come into his element.

In Tom Thibodeau's system, Noah has become the anchor on the Bulls defense. He has become the best defensive center in the NBA and an All-Star. Nobody had him being an All-Star in the NBA.

This All-Star berth was special to Joakim, as he thanked everyone from his parents to his teammates to all the mentors in his life. For everyone who said Noah could not make it to the NBA, he passed that test with flying colors.

In his All-Star season, Noah has had two triple-doubles and is playing 38.4 minutes per game. Like Luol Deng, Tom Thibodeau doesn't give Noah very much rest.

Thursday night against Philadelphia was a tribute to just how far Joakim Noah has come since being drafted in the NBA. Just for some background information, Noah hates the Sixers. After spraining his ankle in Game 3 of the quarterfinals of the playoffs last season, Sixers fans applauded.

I was at the game, I remember.

Do you really think Noah would forget that? Earlier this season when the Bulls returned to Philadelphia, Noah made it clear that he would never what happened.

"(The booing) motivates me. I'll never forget what happened in the playoffs when I went down, and I will use that as motivation every time I come into this building."

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Now, fast forward to Feb. 28, 2013, when Joakim Noah put on the performance of his career, solidifying his case for defensive player of the year. In a 93-82 win, Noah was spectacular, putting up 23 points, 21 rebounds and 11 blocks.

Sure, it's a regular-season game against a Sixers team that has all but mailed it in for the 2013 season. Noah abused Spencer Hawes. To think, that's the guy that I wanted over Noah. Phew, once again.

Just to put things into perspective, Noah joined the company of Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal with that performance.

People can hate on and boo at Noah all they want. That booing is motivating him, not phasing him. They can criticize his tornado shot, or his loud antics. He doesn't care. 

Noah is such a unique player. With his combination of defense, passing and dribbling, it's almost impossible to find a seven-foot center who can do that. 

I'm just glad he's on my side. 

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