From the outside looking in, Brad Miller and Joakim Noah share little in common.
One is a self-dubbed country boy from small town Indiana who likes to hunt, fish and cheer for his beloved Cubs. The other is a worldly free spirit with famous parents and the ability to speak multiple languages.
But look more closely and the two big men share all they needed to form a strong friendship during Noah's early days with the Chicago Bulls — a team-first desire to win. When Noah made his first All-Star appearance, he credited Miller as one of his mentors.
In advance of Thursday's "Joakim Noah Night" at the United Center, Miller, who helped teach Noah the art of the elbow jumper and the no-look pass, detailed their relationship in a phone conversation with NBC Sports Chicago. Miller will be in Chicago this week for the festivities.
NBC Sports Chicago: You two always seemed such an unlikely pair to be friends. How did you get so close?
Miller: I always liked his passion before I even played with him. When he was at Florida, I’d watch him there. When I saw him get drafted, I thought, ‘Oh, this guy is a little eccentric, a little crazy.’ And then I’d talk to Kirk (Hinrich) and Kirk would tell me some funny stuff just about how he had to mature a bit and channel his passion.
He had the heart. And that’s what I saw right away. I loved how he wanted to win. You get someone who actually cares and it’s easy to play with a guy like that. He didn’t care about contracts. He just wanted to be a winner.
NBC Sports Chicago: I remember how Noah would credit you for teaching him about learning the best angles for passes and helping him offensively.
Miller: Vlade (Divac) might’ve taught me, so I learned a few tricks out there in Sacramento. But it was perfect for Jo. That’s what made it great. I always told him, "You don’t need to shoot a lot, but you need to be able to shoot an elbow jumper. That’s your range." That opened his drives. He was like me. We both liked to drive left even though we’re right-handed. So it worked out well.
NBC Sports Chicago: You two had that funny thing where you'd call each other "Duck." How did that start?
Miller: It was just us being stupid. If you did something messed up, we’d always say, "You’re a [expletive] duck." And he messed up a bunch so everybody would give him [expletive]. He was the lead duck. But that was a fun and different way we bonded as a team. You never know if that will happen. It could be something stupid or silly like that. But it brings everyone together to try to maximize everyone and make the group bigger than the individuals.
You gotta have fun out there. There are a lot of games and B.S. you have to deal with. The best teams are the ones that can find their fun. Jo made it a blast. We had some unbelievable talent, but everyone had a passion to want to win and get better. And we enjoyed being around each other. That doesn’t happen a whole lot.
NBC Sports Chicago: You were retired watching his 2013-14 season when he won Defensive Player of the Year and finished fourth in MVP voting. Were you surprised?
Miller: He was a beast that season. There’s such a mental component to the game. There are a lot more talented people who can’t make it in the NBA because they can’t handle the mental side or stress. Noah could because he played with passion and joy. But don't tell him I said that.
More on Joakim Noah night:
- Kirk Hinrich on Joakim Noah: 'He just wanted to win'
- Luol Deng on Joakim Noah: 'He gave the organization everything'