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.
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.