Bulls

Joakim Noah's injury produces somber tones for Bulls teammates

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Joakim Noah's injury produces somber tones for Bulls teammates

Eyes were low and voices were lower in the Bulls’ locker room as the mood was more somber than a regular-season loss called for, but as Derrick Rose said, Joakim Noah’s shoulder dislocation was “devastating.”

Anyone who saw it, heard it or caught the reaction on Noah’s face after his left shoulder got tangled up with Dallas Mavericks center JaVale McGee at the 9:41 mark of the second quarter immediately seemed to realize the ramifications.

“Yeah, it’s tough to lose a guy like Jo who does so much us. But other than basketball I hate to see that happen to a good person like that,” Jimmy Butler said. “He’s down, as he should be. It’s the game he loves, he wants to fight for this team. Just being out with the same injury or something like that, I don’t know exactly what it is, but he wants to be out there with us.”

Noah’s season is in jeopardy and perhaps, his emotion-filled eight-year tenure with the team that drafted him and city that embraced him is in doubt, as he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

A member of an NBA team's medical personnel familiar with the injury said to CSNChicago.com, "He'll be out awhile, the second time it pops out is not good. Whatever has healed has been injured again along with usually more stuff".

That seemed to be the tone for his teammates in the aftermath of the Bulls' 83-77 loss Friday.

“It hurt, it hurt, just knowing how hard he worked, how hard he wants to be on the court, how much he means to this team, it’s devastating,” Rose said.

[MORE: Fatigued Bulls fall to Mavericks, lose Joakim Noah]

Playing through injury has been a big part of Noah’s career in Chicago, as he became a symbol of inspiration for a fan base and symbolic for what the team aspired to be from an emotional standpoint has marked his time—thus the deflated reactions from his teammates, players who were thinking less of themselves and the subsequent modifications they’ll have to endure, but more about the person who’ll endure an uncertain present and future.

“Seeing him on the table like that, kinda got a flashback to when Derrick got hurt,” forward Taj Gibson said. “You don’t want to see your man go down like that. It is frustrating.”

Gibson was referring to Rose’s ACL tear in Game 1 of the 2012 playoffs, the first serious injury that started Rose down this path and squandered what was then considered a strong chance at a title.

Noah was another reason for hope that year and his presence kept the Bulls afloat in injury-filled seasons since.

“You see a guy in all different kind of circumstances in eight years, guy you pride yourself with, especially in practice on a daily basis, he’s one of the emotional leader of this team,” Gibson said. “It hits you in the heart.”

No matter large Noah’s will and heart, the little facts that are known don’t favor him to this point.

Chicago native and Charlotte Hornets swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist suffered a separated right shoulder early in the preseason and underwent surgery shortly thereafter, with the expectation he’ll miss the entire season with his torn labrum.

Many will remember Cleveland’s Kevin Love had surgery on a dislocated shoulder during the first round of the NBA playoffs and he missed the remainder of the Cavaliers’ run to the NBA Finals, being away from basketball activity for 4-6 months.

“It didn’t look good but I don’t know,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’ll get an MRI in the morning and we’ll get a better idea of a timeframe. It looked like it popped out."

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

If the aforementioned timeframes hold, then it’s possible Noah misses the rest of the season with his shoulder injury, as well as opens the door to questions about whether the Bulls should’ve taken the surgical route sooner, when he suffered the shoulder strain on December 21.

It caused Noah to miss nine games and on his first game back, he tweaked the injury getting blocked at the rim by Washington’s John Wall, but stayed in the game. Noah will be a free agent this July and is in the midst of his worst statistical season, averaging 4.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 22 games, most of them coming off the bench in his new role, one he admitted was tough to embrace.

“I didn’t get a chance to talk to him,” Gibson said. “I went in right after halftime and we all checked on him. We don’t know the severity of it, but the look on his face, is crazy. Because we know how hard he worked just to get back to the team and how much energy he had before the game, he really wanted to play the game, he understands the circumstances, how tired guys was…”

Now Noah must embrace the possibility of a different kind of present: rehab with an uncertain future, be it in Chicago or elsewhere.

Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: "There's no fear"

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USA TODAY

Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: "There's no fear"

The Chicago sunlight followed Jabari Parker as he walked through the East Atrium doors of the United Center, facing Michael Jordan’s statue before meeting with the media, introduced as a Chicago Bull for the first time.


For his sake, the brighter days are ahead instead of to his back as he’ll challenge the perception of being the hometown kid who can’t outrun his own shadow.


Parker re-enters Chicago as the No. 2 pick in the draft that the Milwaukee Bucks allowed to walk without compensation despite holding the cards through restricted free agency, damaged goods on the floor but not giving the Bulls a discount to don that white, red and black jersey he’s always dreamed of wearing.


“There were other teams but as soon as I heard Chicago, I just jumped on it,” Parker said.


It took a two-year, $40 million deal (2019-20 team option) to get Parker home, along with the selling point that he’ll start at small forward—a position that’s tough to envision him playing with on the defensive end considering three of the game’s top six scorers occupy that space.
It was a dream come true for his father, Sonny Parker, and high school coach, Simeon Academy’s Robert Smith, who both couldn’t hide their joy following the first question-and-answer session with the media.


“This is where he wanted to be,” Sonny Parker said. “His family’s happy, the support is there. All I know is the United Center will sell out every game. He can’t wait.”


“Normally guys get drafted here. He signed to come here. He had a couple offers from other teams but he wanted to come here.”


The biggest examples of Chicagoans who arrived with outsized expectations for this franchise had varying results, but Derrick Rose and Eddy Curry both came away with scars of sorts that had many wondering why any hometown product would willingly choose to play for the Bulls.


The risk seems to far outweigh the reward; the emotional toll doesn’t seem worth the fare. And with the roster makeup not being ideal for Parker, no one could blame him for going to a better situation—or at least one more tailored to his skills rather than his heart.
“I think every situation is different. Derrick was excelling,” Bulls executive vice-president John Paxson said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “MVP of the league in his hometown before the injury. Eddy was just a young kid who didn’t have the savvy Derrick had. I think every situation is different. Jabari is such a grounded, solid person that he’s gonna be just fine.”


“You don’t have to spend a whole lot of time with him to figure out he’s got it together. He knows who he is. Comfortable in his own skin. A quiet guy. Hopefully he’ll thrive here. The goal is it works great for him and works great for us.”


It seemed like he was bred to be a pro—and not just any pro, but the type Chicago demands of its own when a covenant to play 82 nights a year has been reached. If the constant prodding from his father didn’t break his façade, or older brother Darryl doing everything he could to coax emotion from the most gifted of the Parker clan couldn’t do it, two ACL surgeries on his left knee may pale in comparison.


The numbers from Parker’s recent stint with the Bucks don’t bear it out, but Smith sees a player who’s back on track to being what his talent has always dictated he should become.


“Even watching him work out lately, it’s like whoa,” Smith said. “But of course, everything with Chicago period you have to be cautious. With his family and the support system he has, this thing is about winning basketball games and giving back to the community.”


“He’s had that (target) on his back since he stepped on the court at Simeon, coming behind Derrick and being one of the top five players as a freshman and No. 1 player as a junior. I don’t think it’s a huge problem, it can help him a little bit. If he has those moments if something doesn’t go right, he has someone to help him.”


Parker is more known for his restarts than his unique skill set in his young career, but even at 23 years old speaks with a sage of someone 20 years his senior, unwilling to tab this portion of his journey as a fresh start.


After all, it would be easy to envision his career beginning from the moment he left Simeon as a phenom followed by his one season at Duke—having two games where he totaled just 24 minutes with just two points to start the Bucks’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics isn’t typical of a star’s story if he sees himself that way.


“I don’t. I don’t want to forget all the hard work I had,” Parker said. “To forget I hurt myself and came back is to discredit my success. That in of itself is something outside the norm. I want to always remember the setbacks and failures I’ve had in my career so far. I want to use that as a sense of motivation.”


Bringing up his awkward pro beginnings in Milwaukee, where Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ascension to an unexpected strata mirrored thoughts he might’ve had of himself before his injuries, didn’t cause him to growl.


“I’ve never got jealous a day in my life. That’s why it wasn’t hard because I wasn’t jealous,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “My journey is my journey. I gotta be proud of that and be patient. I took that and I move forward.”


The mention of his defense didn’t make him defensive, either, as he definitively pointed out the truth as he saw it, that today’s game is far more offensive-minded than the bruise-fests of the previous decades. Telling by his words in subsequent interviews, the best defense is a great offense and when he’s right, there aren’t many who can get a bucket as easily and with as much diversity as himself.


The only time Parker broke serve was at the notion he’d be following in the footsteps of Rose’s perceived failures, the setbacks Rose suffered when his knees began to fail after reaching inspiring heights players like Parker wanted to emulate.


At the podium for all to see, he corrected a question formed around Rose’s “rise and fall”, a sound byte copied and pasted by a couple Chicago-bred NBA players on social media in support of Parker’s words and feelings.


“Derrick had no lows. He didn’t. He still maintained. Derrick’s a legend, no matter what…no rise and falls. Injuries are part of life. Derrick is one of the best icons in Chicago. He accomplished his duty already.”


And later, he wanted to set the record straight again, drawing a line from how the media has presented Rose compared to how the people of Chicago see him, and vice-versa.


“We didn’t turn on Derrick, the media (did),” Parker told NBCSportsChicago.com. “We’re hometown. I speak for everybody, we love our hometown.”


The love of Chicago meant more than the prospect of not being able to live up to a glorious prep past, even though he should be well aware wanderlust can turn to villainy in a heartbeat—or the wrong step.


“There’s no pressure for me,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “I’m just happy I get to play with some young guys, and I don’t harp on the negative. Anybody and everybody is gonna have an opinion. I value more my dreams than their opinions.”


And the dreamer steps forward, with a confident gait, eyes wide open and a city hoping it doesn’t repeat the same mistakes of its past.


“There’s no fear,” Parker said. “I haven’t faced any other pressure than bouncing back. I’m back on my feet and moving on.”


“When you struggle more, you succeed more.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: With Jabari Parker in the mix, are the Bulls playoff contenders?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: With Jabari Parker in the mix, are the Bulls playoff contenders?

David Haugh, Patrick Finley and KC Johnson join Kap on the panel. Jabari Parker is officially a Chicago Bull. So does that make the Bulls a playoff team? And who will play defense for Fred Hoiberg’s young team? Vincent Goodwill and Mark Schanowski drop by to discuss.

Plus with Manny Machado now a Dodger, are the Cubs no longer the best team in the NL?

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: