Nobody disliked watching Joakim Noah hobble around last season more than Noah himself, as he followed up a top-5 MVP finish with arguably his most disappointing as a pro.
But just as spring brings hope for baseball players, the summer does wonders for injured basketball players given the requisite time to rest and recover from the wear and tear of previous seasons.
“I think it’s gonna be great. I’m really excited. I’m healthy,” said Noah at his back-to-school giveaway at the Footlocker on State Street downtown, through his Noah’s Arc Foundation. “Haven’t felt healthy in a long time. I’m really excited for the coming year. It’s gonna be a lot of ball movement. I’m just really excited to come in and prove myself.”
“I’m moving a lot better. I feel strong. I’m ready to rumble. I think last year was a tough year for us. Sometimes humbling is good.”
Playing 67 games, his scoring averaged dipped nearly by half (12.6 to 7.2), his assists and rebounds took a modest downturn and his defensive rating raised above 100 points allowed per 100 possessions (102) for the first time since the 2009-10 season, the last before Tom Thibodeau took over. A knee surgery after the 2014 playoffs took a longer time to recover from, resulting in the medical staff and management placing a minutes’ restriction on the center—creating a mini-controversy between the front office and Thibodeau.
“Injuries (stink),” said Noah, using a more colorful word. “When you’re an athlete you want to feel good. Sometimes you take your health for granted. It definitely put a lot on things in perspective for me. And now I’m a lot more focused. Very excited for what’s coming.”
Returning virtually the same roster with the exception of rookie Bobby Portis and a new coach, the humbling loss at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round doesn’t diminish much of his confidence.
Many believed he could be the odd man out as far as personnel moves from management, but the Bulls want to take another go at it with this core.
“I think continuity is gonna be great for us,” Noah said. “Even though it’s the same group, it’s still gonna be change at the leadership role as far as coaching. So it’s gonna be very different. So having the same team brings stability as well.”
As was his excitement for the coming season with new coach Fred Hoiberg, who visited him in California after being hired shortly following Thibodeau’s ouster, was his giddiness for helping the kids as part of his foundation. Dozens ran through the Footlocker and Kids Footlocker as part of his back to school shopping spree, giving Noah a huge level of satisfaction.
“It’s a blessing,” Noah said. “To be able to do this, bring some kids to the footlocker, thanks to footlocker for doing this and it’s just cool to put a smile on those kids faces.”
“I think that it’s important to use your platform and to be able to do some positive things. Feels good to have nice clothes and nice shoes going into the school. It’s good to keep the kids as active as possible through our foundation with after school programs. Chicago’s been good to me so I’ll try to help out.”
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Noah has been outspoken about quelling the gun violence that has raged rampant through the city, which has senselessly taken too many Chicago youths. He’s produced documentaries and raised awareness, leading to being awarded the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for his dedication to the Chicago community.
Seeing the maturity of the kids impacted by his foundation is a level of satisfaction unmet by many others.
“To me that’s the best feeling, just knowing I have a relationship with some of these kids, I’ve seen them grow,” Noah said. “I’ve been working at this community center for four years now. So watching them grow up and seeing them take leadership roles. For the younger kids, some of them started off playing in the leagues and now they’re coaching. I’m really excited about it. Being with a franchise for nine years I’m able to do things like this. So it feels great.”