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.
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.