Joakim Noah is having a career year, and he's being recognized as an… (Rob Grabowski/US Presswire )
Believe it or not, Joakim Noah wasn't always a good basketball player. Actually, there was a time when he wasn't very good at all, and certainly not as good as many of the other marquee names the 2004 high school graduating class.
Perhaps you've heard of these guys: Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay, Glen "Big Baby" Davis, J.R. Smith, Shaun Livingston, Al Jefferson and Sebastian Telfair, to name a few.
But in those nine years, Noah has won two national championships at Florida, was the ninth overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft by the Bulls and has been one of the main reasons the team has again risen to prominence in the NBA. His reward for those achievements has culminated in being picked by the coaches to be a reserve on the 2013 Eastern Conference All-Star team.
His teammate Luol Deng made the squad, too. It's his second straight selection; he leads the Bulls in scoring at 17.4 points per game and also averages 6.4 rebounds.
"I've always had that underdog mentality. I'm proud to come from a background where my father was a tennis player, because when it comes to basketball, I was never a Top 50 recruit," said Noah, who is averaging career highs in points (12.2), assists (4.0) and minutes per game (38.3) this season. And he leads the Bulls in rebounds (10.9), steals (1.3) and blocks (2.1) per game.
"I was never pampered through the AAU circuit and things like that. A lot of these guys who are playing in the NBA now, since they were 13 or 14 years old it's always been about them. I remember going to ABCD camp when I was in high school and being a ball boy. I remember sleeping on the floor with the security. And I'm proud of all of that. It makes me who I am."
Noah's teammates certainly appreciate what he brings to the team.
"Joakim just always plays hard," said Nate Robinson, whose locker at the United Center is next to Noah's. "His game might not look like All-Star material, but he's a hell of a player."
"I tried not to think about [being an All-Star] too much, but it was hard," a smiling Noah admitted while simultaneously trying to downplay his participation in basketball's ultimate pick-up game, set for Feb. 17 in Houston.
"You can only control what you can control and I think if you start playing for those kinds of things, I don't fell like you're playing the game for the right reasons. I just try to play for my teammates and I try to play within the game."
The Bulls haven't had a center in an All-Star since Artis Gilmore in 1982. And Noah is just the third post-Jordan Bulls player to make the Eastern Conference squad (Derrick Rose and Luol Deng are the others).
But when it comes to Noah's selection, you can credit the chip he continues to carry on his shoulder from his younger days that pushes him, drives him, and causes him to accomplish things not many people thought he could. Just don't expect the Bulls big man to view the All-Star nod as "validation."
"To me, it's more about what my teammates think of me," Noah said. "I think that's more important than coaches picking me to play in an All-Star game. I'm more concerned about what my teammates think of me as a person, as a player and as a competitor."
Bryan Crawford is a RedEye special contributor.
Um, nice to see you …
Joakim Noah has had well-publicized verbal altercations with players who will soon be his All-Star teammates. "It's going to be very awkward. Very awkward," Noah said. "But it doesn't matter. I love the game so much and I know that I've worked really, really hard to get to where I'm at right now."
December 2009: With the Heat crushing the Bulls in Miami late in the game, LeBron James does a dance during a timeout. Noah takes exception from the bench, prompting James to walk toward him in the middle of shooting free throws. Player have to be separated, but no punches are thrown.
January 2013: After the Bulls beat Boston 2009, Noah again said the Celtics' Kevin Garnett was guilty of "cheap shots"; Noah also called him a "dirty player" in 2010. Of course, beating the Celtics helps. "When we lose, I feel like [Garnett] crosses the line," Noah said last week. "But since we've been beating their asses, I'm cool with it."
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