NBA free agency:

Joakim Noah – from Clown to All-Star

Chicago Bulls Center Has Grown into One of the NBA’s Best

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | It was all about the suit.

You remember what Joakim Noah wore on draft day, don't you? It was a cream colored striped suit with gold borders. It was a zoot suit. Bounding to the stage upon the announcement he had been selected ninth overall in the 2007 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls, he was a sight to behold.

Combining the circus tent apparel with a hair style reminiscent of long-time Chicago entertainer Bozo, and it was easy to look upon Noah as a clown.

But Noah's free spirit, a trait derived from the environment provided by his parents and grandparents, masked the drive that made both of his parents so successful. That drive was finally rewarded on Jan. 24 when Noah was named as a reserve on the NBA's Eastern Conference All-Star team.

Coming three days after Sports Illustrated selected Noah as their Best Defensive Player from the first half of the 2012-13 season, Noah's selection seemed timely, and appropriate.

Noah celebrated his selection to the All-Star team with a 14-point, 16-rebound performance in an overwhelming 103-87 victory for the Bulls over the visiting Golden State Warriors at the United Center Jan. 25. The victory started the second half of the season for the Bulls and raised their record to 26-16, 10 games over .500, without the services of superstar point guard and team leader Derrick Rose.

His season averages of 12.2 points and 11 rebounds along with two steals and more than three blocks a game are all career highs. They measure not only the extent of his defensive ability but his growth offensively, a part of the game that some people thought he would never find a way to develop.

Noah said his All-Star selection did not serve as motivation to play especially well against the Warriors. The truth is, Noah has played especially well all season long.

"I was just playing my game,'' Noah said. "It's not about that. I just wanted to play with high energy. It's a great honor to be a part of the (All-Star) game, but that is not the reason I play the game."

Noah became a true Bull not with his selection in that 2007 draft but with his performance against the Boston Celtics in the 2009 playoffs, during Derrick Rose's rookie season. In the sixth game of that first round series, in which the Bulls were the No. 8 seed and the Boston Celtics were the No. 1 seed, Noah came up with a trademark play, he made a midcourt steal and dribbled to the basket for a dunk in the game's third overtime that led to the Bulls' victory and forced an unexpected Game Seven.

What made that play special was that it was a defensive play at midcourt by a center who followed it with an offensive play that was unexpected.

Noah's appeal from a fan perspective is his enthusiasm for both life and basketball. It's genuine, not contrived. It's a strength of character from a player who at once was considered nothing more than a character.

"Joakim's energy rubs off on the other four guys on the court,'' Bulls teammate Jimmy Butler said. "When you see him rebounding and yelling, you go in and rebound so you can yell."

"He plays with an energy and enthusiasm that is highly valued in this league,'' Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said.

Kent McDill has covered the Bulls for three different companies: for United Press International from 1985-88, for the Daily Herald newspaper in Arlington Heights, Ill., from 1988-99 and currently for NBA.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title "100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die'' published by Triumph Books.

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