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Report: LeBron James ignored recruiting call from Bulls' Joakim Noah in 2010

Report: LeBron James ignored recruiting call from Bulls' Joakim Noah in 2010

One of the biggest What Ifs in Bulls history just got decidedly What Iffier. 

In advance of the 10-year anniversary of The Decision, in which LeBron James cemented the completion of the Miami Heat’s Big 3 along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst published a wide-spanning feature on the deliberations that led up to James announcing he was “taking his talents to South Beach” on national television. 

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Unsurprisingly, the Bulls featured prominently in the piece. Highlights: The Bulls hosted Wade for multiple meetings, which featured an elaborate video presentation and Wade “beaming” while donning a red, No. 3 Bulls jersey. Trade talks for Luol Deng sparked with the Los Angeles Clippers (who eventually declined) and Toronto Raptors, which could have opened three max salary slots for Chicago. Derrick Rose taped a video as part of the team’s recruiting efforts, but it was deemed by the free agents to lack “enthusiasm.” Four days before The Decision, Wade, Bosh and James reportedly entered a conference call weighing options between the Bulls and Heat, but came out committed to Miami.

Old wounds, rehashed.

But perhaps the freshest nugget of info from the piece will open a new one. According to Windhorst, with Rose only marginally involved in recruiting, Joakim Noah took on a leading role attempting to woo James, specifically. In the days leading up to The Decision, Noah reportedly dialed up James, but received no answer, or even a call-back. A testament, Windhorst noted, to the two’s already-tense relationship.

Their rivalry escalated from there, which Bulls fans know all too well. Here’s a timeline of the events that comprise Noah and James’ ever-enduring feud.

Dec. 4, 2009: The Dance

An innocuous regular season blowout at the Bulls’ expense turned tense midway through the fourth quarter. With Cleveland leading 89-71 and upon being fouled, James busted out a mini-shimmy before taking the charity stripe. It was a continuation of those Cavaliers’ team-wide propensity to break out in dance, both before and during games.

Noah, of course, didn’t take kindly to the show of ebullience. He chirped James from the Bulls’ bench while the Cavs star took his free throws. After canning the first, James approached the Bulls bench and the two continued to exchange heated words. James eventually drew a technical.

 

Postgame comments from James paint the picture of an already acrimonious relationship, even in just Noah’s second NBA season.

“It’s nothing against the Bulls and it’s nothing against Joakim or none of those guys,” James said that night, via the Herald-Review. “It’s nothing about showboating on a team. I’ve seen it happen all last year. I think he (Noah) is just more frustrated about the way he played as an individual. He didn’t help his team win.”

The loss moved the Bulls to 7-10 on the season and the Cavs to 14-5. The incident came four months before the Cavaliers faced the Bulls in the 2010 Eastern Conference first round, and seven-to-eight months before the Bulls attempted to recruit LeBron to Chicago.

April, 2010: “What’s so good about Cleveland?”

Speaking of that first-round series… It was during that matchup that Noah made his now-famous, disparaging comments towards the entire city of Cleveland. A sampling: 

 

We have yet to spot the lie, but it would come as no surprise if that struck a nerve with LeBron. 

“Noah’s one of those guys that likes attention,” James said when asked to respond to the comments, via a video from the Chicago Tribune. “I’m not gonna get too far into what he said, it means absolutely nothing to the series.”

Fact-check: True. James and the Cavaliers trounced the Bulls in five games.

July, 2010: The Ignored Phone Call

By way of new reporting from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Noah allegedly led the recruiting effort for James from the Bulls’ player side in the summer of 2010. But when he called James to presumably check in on where he was in his decision-making process, there was no response. James never returned the call.

May 26, 2011: “Hollywood as hell”

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that James and Noah’s beef escalated in the 2010s. Take this from Noah after the new-look, Big 3 Heat ousted the Bulls in five games in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals:

 

“You gotta give credit where credit is due. Miami’s a hell of a team,” Noah told reporters after a Game 5 loss that ended the Bulls’ season. “They’re Hollywood as hell. But they’re still very good.”

Yeah, no bad blood there at all.

May 8, 2013: Another Playoff Tiff

In an especially physical Game 2 romp by the Heat over the Bulls in the 2013 Eastern Conference semifinals, Noah and James got into it again:

 

The Heat went on to a dominating 115-78 victory, and Noah and Taj Gibson were ejected from the game late.

April - May, 2015: More Words Exchanged

With the 2014-15 regular season winding down, James and Noah clashed again in the fourth quarter of a nationally televised contest after Noah scurried to snag the ball from James’ hands as the latter argued a travel call. An antagonistic move no doubt:

 

Then, just over a month later, the two clashed again during Game 3 of the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals at the United Center (which Derrick Rose ultimately won with a banked-in, buzzer-beating 3-pointer). James drew a technical for staring Noah down, and probably hurling a word or two in his direction, after dropping a baseline dunk on his head. Noah’s response was vintage:

 

The clapping, the veins bursting from his neck. The words he appears to exchange with James are unsavory, but it encapsulates the two’s relationship.

Now, they’re on opposite ends of one of the more exhilarating rivalries in the current NBA: Lakers-Clippers. Noah is, of course, far from the player he once was, but if some shenanigans or banter were traded between the two, it would add a fun wrinkle to the league’s 22-team restart.

RELATED: Bulls fan viewing guide to NBA restart: Joakim Noah ring watch, free agency impact

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NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

In the first round of testing announced since the NBA began playing official restart games on July 30, there's more good news.

Of the 343 players tested for COVID-19 since the last results were announced on July 29, there remains zero positive tests. This is the third round of testing results made public in a joint statement from the NBA and NBPA, whose strict safety protocols appear to be working. Teams have now been in the so-called "bubble" on the Disney World campus outside Florida for close to a month.

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The statement reiterated that if one positive test occurs, that player will be isolated until he meets all rules established by the two parties to resume play. The 22 teams on the Disney campus traveled with limited parties of 35 people. Players undergo daily testing.

The season is scheduled to conclude in October with the NBA Finals. Commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, executive director of the players association, long made it clear they badly wanted to crown a 2019-20 champion, even when Silver paused the league in mid-March after Rudy Gobert posted the first positive test. The league and NBPA have drawn rave reviews from around the sporting world for the execution of their plan to this point.

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Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

It’s Day 147 since the Bulls last played a game. The NBA has restarted its season to first-weekend-of-March-Madness-esque affect. With no positive COVID-19 cases yet reported from within the bubble, and games taking on a playoff feel, buzz is palpable.

But no, the Bulls have not yet announced a decision on the future of head coach Jim Boylen.

Still, tea-leaf reading continues to abound with respect to Boylen’s job status, and it’s easy to reason why. After a tumultuous third year of the current rebuild, ownership installed fresh leadership at the highest level of the front office in executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas; in turn, Karnisovas brought on general manager Marc Eversley, assistant GM J.J. Polk and VP of player personnel Pat Connelly. John Paxson retreated to an advisory role and Gar Forman was fired. There’s been a bit of deck-shuffling in the training and coaching staffs, though most were based on contract option deadlines.

All of which is to say, winds of change are howling for a franchise that was in dire need of it.

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So — whichever direction the team goes — what’s the hold up on committing to or moving on from Boylen? Karnisovas publicly addressed that question at his end-of-season conference call nearly two months ago.

“I know that you are anxious for me to comment definitively on our future of the Chicago Bulls. I understand that anticipation,” Karnisovas said. “That said, I take pride in being deliberate and thoughtful in my decision-making and take the weight of my decisions seriously. I’m not inclined to make evaluations prematurely to satisfy our excitement to move this team forward.”

Then: “I’d like to be in a building, to be in practices, to be around the coaching staff in meetings. We’re looking forward to getting in the video room together, analyze the games, to watch games together… In order for me to keep players and coaches accountable, I have to have personal relationships with them.”

That, and leaguewide financial uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, appear to have contributed to Karnisovas playing the long game in deciding on Boylen’s future.

But a vocal segment of the fanbase hasn’t been satisfied with that approach. And a common mantra among that group has been that keeping Boylen aboard as long as the new regime has is directly contradictory to their stated goal of making the Bulls a “players first” organization. Boylen’s 39-84 record through one-and-a-half seasons is the kindling for calls for his job. Reports of players privately expressing discontent with him have stoked the flames further.

So, in the spirit of getting it down on paper, let’s run through key Bulls players’ most recent public comments on Boylen (disclaimer: since the league shutdown began). We’ll update this piece if and when more filter through:

Tomáš Satoranský, Aug. 4: “I certainly don’t want to throw dirt on him”

Tuesday, Lukas Kuba, who’s all over all things Sato, had this tidbit from an interview Satoranský conducted on Express FM, a Czech radio station. In it, Satoranský acknowledged the harsh realities of the 2019-20 season, but was largely sympathetic towards Boylen due to a combination of his first-year status, front-facing role and work ethic:

 

Per Kuba, Satoranský has commented on Boylen to Czech media multiple times since the Bulls last played, and stayed diplomatic doing it. A common thread: Sato seems to see Boylen as a positive thinker who works hard, even if the fruits of that care factor haven’t bloomed on the court. He has also criticized Boylen’s rotations, but maintained — at least publicly — that he thinks Boylen will be back next season:

  

All of the above is likely translated from Czech — important context to note if analyzing every word.

Daniel Gafford, July 21: “He aight”

For the most part, Bulls players have maintained diplomacy speaking on Boylen since the NBA shuttered on March 11. Rookie center Daniel Gafford represents the most glaring exception. Here’s how he responded to a viewer question on his opinion of Boylen while live-streaming on Twitch:

 

“He aight. I don’t like him a lot but he OK,” Gafford said. “Got some things he can work on. Got some things he can get better at — as a person and as a coach. Not gonna hate on him, not gonna hate the man, but you know (trails off)...”

Far from a ringing endorsement, especially when you listen to Gafford’s tone in the audio itself. 

Context: Boylen light-heartedly admitted in the preseason that he’d been hard on Gafford in the run-up to the start of his first year; then, Gafford started the season out of the rotation in favor of free-agent-signing Luke Kornet before the rooke from Arkansas burst out with 21 points (10-for-12 FG), five rebounds and two blocks on Nov. 18 against the Milwaukee Bucks, unimpeachably proving his merit.

And on Jan. 6, there was this incident, when Boylen appeared to leave a timeout in his pocket with Gafford writhing in pain on the floor after turning his ankle in a game against the Dallas Mavericks. Gafford was allowed to sub out only after play stopped for a foul called on Tim Hardaway Jr.

 

Zach LaVine, June 5: “I think he goes out there and does his best.”

Thad Young, June 5: “He’s probably one of the more energetic coaches I’ve played for”

Both LaVine and Young took the high road when asked about Boylen in their end-of-season press conferences back in early June.

“I’m going to keep the same stance I always have. It’s not for me to judge somebody. I think he goes out there and does his best. I don’t think anybody in any organization in the NBA goes out there and tries to fail,” LaVine said. “Sometimes, it’s out of your power on won-loss record or what happens during the game. I know for a fact he tries and does his best. That’s all you can ask for sometimes. As a player, I just follow the lead and do my job. On decisions and things like that, I leave that up to higher management. That’s not my role in the organization.”

And, in a perfect closing line: “I think you know I was going to answer that correctly.”

“That’s not really a question for me to answer,” Young echoed. “I think that’s more up to the front office. Obviously, Jim is very energetic. He’s probably one of the most energetic coaches I’ve played for. My job is to go out there and basically help lead this team to try to win games and play to the best of my ability each night. It’s the same for each guy down the line. That’s something you’ll have to ask Marc and Arturas and let them answer.”

Both LaVine and Young also had public differences of opinion with Boylen throughout the season. For LaVine, the inflection point was being pulled three-and-a-half minutes into an early-season blowout loss to the Miami Heat for what Boylen termed “three egregious defensive mistakes.”

“I’ve got pulled early before by him. I guess that’s just his thing to do,” LaVine said that night, only to drop 49 points and 13 3s on the Charlotte Hornets the next. 

An evident show of frustration (“Why?”) caught on camera following a last-minute Boylen timeout amid a 27-point defeat to the Toronto Raptors stands out, too. The near-coup that took place when Boylen took over in 2018 is well-documented, as is LaVine paying a $7,000 fine for the coach late last season — at the time, a sign of an evolving relationship that has since seen more bumps.

And Young’s frustrations with his role, first made public in a report by the Chicago Sun-Times in December 2019, permeated an up-and-down campaign in which he was asked to adjust to a style he hadn’t encountered in his 13-year career and inconsistent playing time. His best stretch came in place of an injured Lauri Markkanen, but he finished 2019-20 with non-rookie-year career-lows in points, rebounds and minutes per game.


How much stock you put into the above comments is in the eye of the beholder. They all contribute to the murky picture around the Bulls’ coaching situation right now.

RELATED: Why Arturas Karnisovas’ long play on Jim Boylen's future is the smart play

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