Billy Donovan doesn’t mince words when asked to describe his relationship with Joakim Noah.
“He’s changed my life,” Donovan said.
Along with Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green, Noah helped Donovan coach back-to-back NCAA champions at Florida in 2006 and 2007.
“I would not be sitting where I’m at without those guys and guys like Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, Matt Bonner,” Donovan said.
On Thursday, Donovan will be sitting on the Chicago Bulls’ bench across from good friend and Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau as the franchise holds “Joakim Noah Night” at the United Center. Both coaches know the impact Noah can make on a team.
NBC Sports Chicago recently sat down with Donovan to talk about his perspective on that dynamic:
NBC Sports Chicago: I always tell people that Noah is one of the most genuine people I’ve covered in this business.
Donovan: That’s right. He’s as real of a person as you’re ever going to find. The thing about him is he’s incredibly caring. He’s done an amazing job in his life of thinking about others before he thinks about himself. I always admired that about him.
We had a player who he didn’t even play with at Florida who had some heart issues and was on a ventilator and was basically on life support. He got through it. And Jo had a place in Miami and Jo told the kid, ‘Listen, I’m going to train with you every day to help you get back physically.’ That’s just the kind of guy he is.
NBC Sports Chicago: One thing that always stood out to me about his time with the Bulls is how much he always had his teammates’ backs.
Donovan: I always felt coming out of college that no matter where Joakim ended up playing, that locker room was going to be healthy and that team was going to win because he is consumed with winning. He would do anything for a team to win. If that meant coming off the bench, if that meant starting, whatever role, it’s always about winning and what’s best for the team. He really cares about his teammates and he wants to see them do well. He’ll sacrifice for his teammates.
But it’s not just his teammates. I remember when Hurricane Katrina hit, he came up to my office and said, "We have to get vans and drive to New Orleans now. We have to help those people." And I’m like, "Joakim, we can’t just take off during the season and school year." And he’s like, "Well, we have to think of something." He’s just always been very people-conscious. And he’s the same way with his teammates.
NBC Sports Chicago: Do you have a first memory of him?
Donovan: When we signed him, it was during the April recruiting period. His season had finished. Our season had finished. And I always tried to go see our incoming freshmen before they got on campus for the summer to talk about expectations, that kind of thing.
And when I went to go see him, we had gotten knocked out of the NCAA tournament a week or two before. And you would’ve thought he was on the team. Talking to him, he was so bothered by the loss. It was incredible. He kept talking about the game. I’d try to change the subject and he kept talking about the game. Think about that: He was in high school at the time. I knew we had signed the right guy.
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