It’s not often you see Tom Thibodeau spending time at a party instead of preparing for a game.
But that was Thibodeau stopping by a restaurant that Nazr Mohammed is an investor in near the United Center Wednesday night, catching up with players he coached during one of the most memorable eras in Chicago Bulls basketball.
That was Thibodeau, in town with his 3-1 Knicks, paying tribute to Joakim Noah in advance of Noah’s night at the United Center on Thursday. The Bulls officially named Noah a team ambassador on Thursday.
“That team was really close,” said Thibodeau, who coached the Bulls from 2010 to 2015. “Just watching those guys interact with each other, it’s special. Anytime you have a group of guys who make a commitment like that to each other, it’s great.
“I’m just thrilled that Jerry and Michael (Reinsdorf) are recognizing Joakim for what he did. And it’s great to see Joakim’s mother and father there, his family. And just seeing where he is. He’s totally at peace. And he should be. He gave everything he had to the game. There was nothing left at the end. And that’s the way you should go out.”
Not only will the up-and-coming Knicks facing the unbeaten Bulls feature a delicious basketball matchup, that means close friends of Noah like Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose are in town too. There are plans for another postgame gathering Thursday night as the Knicks will stay over rather than fly to New Orleans, the site of their next game.
“It’s great, man, coming back, always,” Rose said. “Me and Joakim’s relationship has always been tight, close. To see him get celebrated is huge.
“A lot of my friends, I wasn’t their favorite player on the team. It was Joakim. For him, everything that he gave to this franchise, the way he gave his all to the game, it means a lot. I’m happy to be here the night they’re celebrating.”
Multiple former teammates and coaches attended Wednesday’s gathering, with more scheduled to arrive for Thursday’s postgame bash. Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Brad Miller, Carlos Boozer, Kurt Thomas, Thabo Sefolosha, Aaron Gray, Keith Bogans and Ömer Aşık were in town Wednesday at a gathering that also featured current organizational members like John Paxson, Michael Reinsdorf, Artūras Karnišovas, Marc Eversley and Toni Kukoc. Brian Scalabrine is due in Thursday.
“It’s deeper than basketball,” Rose said. “Our families are pretty close. My Mom and his Mom are. Even in New York, everything that I do is based around his friends helping out, his family helping out. His best friend Matt (Rosenberg) is always around. My daughter and his daughter are best friends. So it came full circle. It’s crazy that I’m in New York now where he grew up. It’s perfect.”
Thibodeau and Noah often butted heads because of their strong wills and stubbornness. But they both shared a burning desire to win and remain extremely close.
"He had one helluva career," Thibodeau said. I’m thrilled for him and his family."