PARIS --- Perhaps it’s reading too much into an exaggerated gesture at a promotional event.
But when former Chicago Bulls All-Star Joakim Noah dropped into a crouched defensive stance to guard former Detroit Pistons All-Star Richard Hamilton on the famed clay of Court Philippe-Chatrier at Roland Garros on Wednesday night, one couldn’t help but think:
Like father, like son.
Yannick Noah won the 1983 French Open on the same hallowed clay, the first Frenchman to do so in 37 years and, to date, the last Frenchman to do so. Forty years later, Joakim Noah teamed up with Gabby Williams of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm to beat Hamilton and retired Spanish tennis star David Ferrer in a 2-on-2 event hosted by Wilson Sporting Goods.
Noah couldn’t help but let the legendary competitiveness and intensity that defined his nine-season Bulls’ run and that he in part inherited from his father shine through on certain occasions during the otherwise low-key affair.
“This place has huge moments for my family. A lot of sacrifices were made to get to play at this level,” Noah said. “Being the last French guy to win the French Open, still to this day they’re going to commemorate him well and do a statue for him in May. It’s a special, special place.”
Noah was born in 1985, two years after his father made history. But he long has talked about the lasting lessons---competitiveness, persistence, intensity---that Yannick’s professional career taught him. Even if Joakim played a different sport.
“I’m terrible at tennis,” Joakim said.
This is a special week for Noah, who grew up both here and in New York after his parents divorced. He attended his first NBA game with his father when the Bulls played here in 1997 and now is serving as a team ambassador for the current Bulls who face the Detroit Pistons at Accor Arena on Thursday.
That also gave Noah, who played for the French national team that finished runner-up to Spain at the 2011 EuroBasket tournament, a chance to again connect with Billy Donovan. The Bulls coach won two NCAA titles with Noah at Florida.
“It’s special. My first NBA game was here in 1997---Michael Jordan,” Noah said. “And then playing for the Bulls for nine years, it’s a full circle moment for me to have the Bulls playing here 26 years later.
“We had a great night (Tuesday) night. I’m a little tired; I’m not going to lie. It was cool to spend some time with the guys at the party. Paris is a special place. It’s cool to be with my family as well.”
After two straight busy nights of partying and playing basketball on a tennis court, what are Noah’s plans for Thursday’s game?
“Just watching and chilling,” he said. “Definitely rooting for the Bulls.”