On Jan. 15, 2008, Joakim Noah probably didn’t want to secure Ben Wallace’s comeuppance. As a rookie, he probably didn’t even want to secure Ben Wallace’s job, or get then-Chicago Bulls coach Jim Boylan fired from his gig. What he wanted was for his new team, the disappointing 2007-08 Chicago Bulls, to build upon the momentum they had made in making a strong first-half comeback against the Orlando Magic that night and pull out the win in the second half.
Frustrated at watching vets Wallace and Joe Smith laughing on the bench during what could have been a one-sided first half, he vented in the locker room at halftime — though not in the direction of Wallace or Smith. Wallace, knowing he was the subject of the rant, got in the rookie’s face. Boylan, knowing he should side with his $15 million a year star in Wallace and not a dumb rookie, sided with Big Ben, and Noah (who gave Chicago a double-double in that game in just 23 minutes) was left to take the slings and arrows in front of the press.
And the Bulls lost the game. And Wallace was traded a month later. And Boylan didn’t make it until the next season. And to a lot of us, even with Derrick Rose debuting with the team some nine months after this incident, Joakim Noah remains our favorite Chicago Bull.
This late-game save from Wednesday night, in the closing moments of Chicago’s win over the Detroit Pistons, is one of the reasons why:
(Also, Bulls announcer Stacey King? We know Marco Belinelli is Italian. Not every person wants to be associated with a style of food that at one time -- as in, "centuries ago" -- unique to their home country. Do yourself a favor and come up with "spicy meatball"-type shouts for these players after they make a big move: Jeremy Lin, Eduardo Najera, Steve Nash, or Georgia-born Dwight Howard. Still feel like yelling about meatballs?)
Record-wise, the Bulls shouldn’t have needed much help in downing the lowly Detroit Pistons; a team that entered Wednesday night’s game with eight fewer wins than Chicago. Especially when you figure in the 16-game winning streak Chicago boasted over the struggling Pistons prior to the contest. On paper, though, the Pistons have talent, and the Bulls sometimes struggle to hit for double-figure points in a quarter. Chicago needed all it could get against Detroit, and Joakim Noah excels at giving all he can.
Forty-five minutes played in the win for Noah — 45 minutes! Ten points, 18 rebounds, two assists, five turnovers, two steals, a block and a save to Marco Belinelli that led to the first-year Chicago wing nailing his second game-winner in a week. On the year, Noah is averaging 12.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, a combined 3.4 blocks/steals, and four assists. And somehow, despite averaging nearly 39 minutes per game and covering stems to sterns to point guards to centers to the photographer’s row, Noah only averages 2.8 fouls per game.
This is the sort of production that people who take the “most valuable player” argument literally point to at the end of the season, while they overlook the player that’s had the best season that year. LeBron James and Kevin Durant are rightfully vying for the MVP this year, but watching just one quarter of Joakim Noah-led defense and Joakim Noah-initiated offense for Chicago, and you can almost understand why this team is on pace for 51 wins.
The team might not get there. Wheels have a way of breaking down, and it’s hard to remember many centers pulling off this sort of all-out play (regardless of trips into the photographer’s area in his 45th minute of work in a night) for an entire season.
It doesn’t matter. Noah has come so, so far in the last five years, and later on Thursday he’ll likely be awarded a spot on the All-Star team that he wholly deserves. Carlos Boozer may rack up Player of the Week honors, Luol Deng may be the coaching staff’s favorite player, Kirk Hinrich’s Chicago roots may date back to just a week after Jay Williams ended his career with a motorcycle accident on Fletcher and Honore, and hometown son Derrick Rose may be a month away from thrilling us all with his derring-do.
Through all of that, Joakim Noah is the heart and soul of a team that might be the toughest this league has to offer. Not exactly breaking news to anyone that was watching that mess in Orlando half a decade ago.