Before his 12-year run in the NBA and his nine years on the Bulls, 34-year-old Joakim Noah was once like so many young basketball fans today, an NBA hopeful who idolized Kevin Garnett.
Noah, however, got to compete against childhood idol Garnett during his rookie season with the Bulls. The game didn’t end up going as expected, with Garnett hitting Noah with some of his infamous trash talk.
Noah recently appeared on Barstool Sports’ Pardon My Take podcast to tell his side of the story beginning in the 2007-08 season.
Garnett had appeared on the podcast earlier this year and was also asked about his beef with Noah. The hosts played Noah a clip of Garnett laughing off the interaction between players during their interview and noted how Noah became visibly agitated.
“I don’t think he remembers because I think the story meant a lot more to me than it did to him,” Noah said. “I had KG posters on my wall, I had a f****** KG jersey growing up. The first time I’m playing KG I’m hype as hell.”
Noah described how he worked up the courage to approach the NBA star during his first game against the Celtics to ask about a trainer they both worked with, Joe Abunassar.
“I just wanted to say something to my idol, and he just looked over like, ‘Yo, who the f*** you talking to? Who the f*** do you think you’re talking to?' When he said that I was like oh s***, I shouldn’t have said that. And then I kind of fell back, knowing I shouldn’t have said that, and then when I didn’t say anything, I guess he thought I was a p*ssy because he kept getting louder and from that moment on, I swear I was going at him. Every single time we play, we’re going at it.”
And onto us, a rivalry is born.
“It changed my career,” Noah said. “That moment changed my career because from that moment, on I learned that there is no love in battle, and this is competition. At the end of the day, I’m trying to rip your f****** head off, you’re trying to rip my head off, let’s go. I’m trying to win just as bad as you’re trying to win. I’m not trying to make no friends. That moment right there changed everything.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the
Two times per week, we'll be breaking down a pertinent Bulls question for you all to chew in during the NBA's hiatus.
If the NBA never resolves its regular season, that will be just fine with a large swath of the Bulls’ fanbase. With a 22-43 record through 65 games, and just two of those wins coming against teams above-.500, this team’s fate was all but sealed before the COVID-19 pandemic ground the NBA's schedule to a halt.
But there were reasons to invest in the stretch run — among them, the hope of a small reclamation for Lauri Markkanen, whose third season began with unbridled optimism, but was littered with disappointment.
That initial optimism wasn’t misguided. In Markkanen’s second year, he averaged 18.7 points and nine rebounds per game, bumped his workload on steady efficiency from his rookie campaign and amassed a month of February for the ages, posting averages of 26 points and 12 rebounds on rising-star-level volume (36.3 minutes, 18.1 field goal attempts, 26.9% usage). All of that packed into an agile, sharp-shooting, 7-foot frame, and he looked like a budding face of the franchise.
Then, year three happened, and with it, regression across the board. With 50 games under his belt (he appeared in 52 in 2018-19), Markkanen is averaging career lows in points (14.7), rebounds (6.3) and field goal attempts (11.8), as well as shooting career-worst marks from the field (42.5%) and 3-point range (34.4%). As of this writing, he’s averaging just 0.1 minutes more than his rookie season, and 2 ½ less than his sophomore campaign.
The high-point was 35-point, 17-rebound, 17-for-25 shooting performance in Charlotte on opening night, but after that, Markkanen never eclipsed 19 field goal attempts in a game again (he had 10 such games in 2018-19). His best extended stretch of play came in December, when he averaged 17.6 points on 50.8% shooting (41.6% from deep) in 14 games the Bulls finished 7-7. In his other 36 contests, he averaged 13.6 points on 38.9% shooting (31% from deep).
You get the picture. But none of that changes the fact that the Bulls will (eventually) enter this offseason and the 2021 season reliant on Markkanen to re-discover his second-year form and the potential that leapt off the screen in it. Crucial to that happening is understanding why his third season played out the way it did.
The answer to that question is a complex one, a perfect storm of adversity.
Injuries undoubtedly played some part. Rumors of a nagging oblique ailment colored Markkanen’s early-season shooting struggles. A badly sprained ankle hampered him throughout January. He missed nearly six weeks from Jan. 22 to March 4 with an early stress reaction in his right pelvis. In four games returned from that injury, Markkanen averaged 11.8 points and 3.8 boards on ever-increasing minutes restrictions before the novel coronavirus cut that spell short.
Coaching was a factor, too. The Bulls’ freshly-minted offensive system yielded the league’s 29th-rated team offense, but Markkanen’s production was its greatest individual casualty. His catch-and-shoot and spot-up diets increased, his drives and possessions as the roll/pop-man in the pick-and-roll decreased and his efficiency tanked across the board. A player at his best on the move spent too many games at a standstill. Further, uneven usage and playing time resulted in Markkanen’s role in the offense waxing and waning drastically game-to-game (he only posted consecutive 20-point outings once), — sometimes half-to-half.
What’s more, late-season comments (e.g. when he said proving that he “can be aggressive and get to do multiple things and not be a spot-up shooter” as a goal for the stretch run after his first game back from the pelvis injury) pointed to friction between Markkanen’s desires and the Bulls’ schemes.
But, of course, a share of the blame falls on Markkanen. Bulls coach Jim Boylen likes to talk about controlling the controllables — for Markkanen, he often cited crashing the glass as a means to assuage his offensive woes. But according to Cleaning the Glass’ metrics, Markkanen’s defensive rebounding rate sank from being in the 83rd percentile for his position in his sophomore season, to 41st in this one. His on-ball defense didn’t take a step forward, he struggled to attack mismatches on the offensive end and, while there is a responsibility for coaches and players to get their stars involved in the flow of the game, Markkanen can and should grab the reins more than he did this year.
Again: A perfect storm. A nicked up, third-year player with a deferential, team-first temperament regresses while attempting to adjust to a new offensive system not directly catered to his strengths. In retrospect, it’s not so unbelievable.
Still, the solution must come quickly, for Markkanen’s sake and the Bulls’. Entering the offseason, this rebuild is as fraught as ever, changes are reportedly coming to the team’s front office and Markkanen is extension-eligible come July (though that date could change in the post-coronavirus cap environment we inhabit). Markkanen’s side will want a big-money, long-term commitment from the Bulls in line with the cornerstone distinction bestowed upon him, but he hasn’t played up to that standard on a consistent basis. From an optics perspective, a staring match benefits no one.
Bottom line: Lauri Markkanen is not the player he was this season. He’s not the player he was in Feb. 2019 either. The true Markkanen lies somewhere in the middle, and whenever the Bulls resume operations, finding his place on that spectrum is perhaps the most important issue facing the team.
A palpable buzz is building as we creep closer and closer to the April 19 release date for ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary series on Michael Jordan and the 1990s Bulls.
Former ESPN employee and current CEO of the Ringer, Bill Simmons, added to that in a recent appearance on FS1’s "The Herd," a radio show hosted by Colin Cowherd.
"Michael Jordan was just more popular & more famous than LeBron in every conceivable way. He transcended celebrity... I think this is going to be one of the biggest documentaries ever." — @BillSimmons pic.twitter.com/NfUaOd2a66— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) April 1, 2020
In Simmons’ time at ESPN, he famously pioneered the "30 for 30" documentary series that has since swelled in popularity and name-brand recognition. In a six-minute interview with Cowherd, Simmons recalled the universal reverence for Jordan and the ’90s Bulls, and Jordan’s reluctance to peel the curtain back on their exploits.
“We [ESPN] tried to do it [a Jordan documentary] after we finished the first "30 for 30" series when we had everything going in 2009,” Simmons said. “We knew about this documentary that NBA Entertainment had. You know, they had filmed his whole season. They had all this behind the scenes stuff. So we got a copy of it, and we watched it. And the behind the scenes stuff, it was the real Jordan. It was the homicidally competitive Jordan, the guy yelling at his teammates. It was all the stuff we had always heard of but never seen. And we were just like, how do we get this made?”
“Jordan never wanted it, and I think what happened, middle of the (2010s) decade, especially when LeBron won that Cavs title, when things really started to shift and all of a sudden there was an MJ vs. LeBron argument. I think for the first time, Jordan and his camp realized, ‘Oh, we gotta protect our legacy here,’” Simmons said. “People are starting to forget how great and famous and how universally everyone thought, who was there, this is the best basketball player I’m ever going to see. And I still feel that way.”
To be clear, there’s no evidence of the footage Simmons alluded to being directly related to “The Last Dance.” But it shows that there is a side to Jordan that the masses have yet to see.
Hopefully, we get to experience that side in all its flaws and glory come April 19.