This is a clip from the end of Tuesday night's Chicago Bulls win over the Indiana Pacers, featuring Bulls center Joakim Noah rushing into the stands following the contest to embrace his 72-year-old grandfather, who had flown in all the way from Cameroon to witness the game. This was the first NBA action Noah's grandfather had ever seen, making this the first time Zacharie Noah had watched his grandson play professional basketball.
Anyone who has seen Joakim Noah play basketball since his time at the University of Florida will tell you that the wiry Bulls center is a bundle of energy. All long arms and sharp elbows, Noah is a combustible sort who is constantly either encouraging rowdiness amongst his home Chicago crowd, or getting under the skin of the opposing crowd and/or team.
On Tuesday night, as his Bulls dispatched the Indiana Pacers in their opening round playoff series, Noah came through with each of these familiar precepts. And yet, he seemed to be exulting a little more than usual, adding to his typical output. Probably because Noah's 72-year-old grandfather, who was flown in all the way from Cameroon, was watching his grandson play an NBA game for the first time.
Zacharie Noah -- grandfather of the NBA star, and father of former tennis great and current Franco pop sensation Yannick Noah -- had seen Joakim play in college at Florida, but this was his first observation of an NBA game, and his first time watching his grandson play for Chicago, the team that drafted Noah in 2007. And whether his grandfather's presence inspired him to perk up a little bit, or whether it was just a happy coincidence, Joakim was by far the most demonstrative and obviously aggressive player on the court as the Bulls took the deciding game.
From the outset, Noah was looking for his own offense, clapping incessantly at good moves or calls gone Chicago's way, and upsetting various Pacers. Not only did he register four blocks on the evening (Bulls guard Derrick Rose, hobbled with an ankle sprain, credited Noah postgame for his ability to clean up Chicago's mistakes defensively), but he received an early technical foul for arguing calls, while baiting Pacers forward Josh McRoberts into a flagrant shove near the end of the third quarter, a move that resulted in McRoberts' ejection.
And if Zacharie were to walk away from his first NBA game thinking this sort of Noah-led assault were typical, he'd be wrong. Because his grandson was clearly putting on a show for his grandfather. And don't think Zacharie wasn't impressed. As he said to reporters Tuesday night:
"It's unbelievable. I'm very happy to come to the playoffs and see my grandson doing great things. I'm so proud to be here."
With the Bulls safely ahead in the fourth quarter, and the game well in hand, Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau substituted for Noah so that he could take in a standing ovation from the United Center crowd. Immediately after the substitution buzzer sounded and the crowd started clapping, Noah started blowing kisses in his grandfather's direction, clearly mindful of the moment. The roar for Noah was deafening, as he exited with 14 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks in just 31 minutes.
The Bulls center was definitely aware of the moment, and how the din of the United Center crowd would hit his grandfather's ears. He pointed this out to the Chicago Tribune on Monday:
"He's never felt the UC, they don't have things like that in Cameroon. They don't have the United Center out there. They have soccer ... but not the UC."
On Tuesday, Joakim Noah had the UC. He had it in the palm of his hand, spurring his previously somnambulant team toward nervier things as he both baited the crowd and his opponents, while contributing across the board as Chicago pulled ahead. This is an anxious, intense player who rarely needs extra motivation, but his grandfather's presence was clearly what Noah and the Bulls needed to find the energy to put Indiana away.
"I think he should come to every game." Chicago guard Kyle Korver said following the win. "I'll pay for the ticket."
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