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Joakim Noah came to the NBA with limited offensive skills.
But he arrived in the NBA as winner with a work ethic who won two NCAA men’s basketball championships at Florida under Billy Donovan.
And while Noah never won an NBA title, he made seven consecutive playoff appearances with the Chicago Bulls, including an Eastern Conference finals appearance in 2011. Along the way, Noah and the Bulls gave LeBron James and his Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers teams trouble.
Noah, the son of tennis star Yannick Noah and Miss Sweden Cecilia Rodhe, was an elite and spirited competitor, persistent, an agitator, a defender and rebounder, and to that substance, he added style and bravado.
Noah’s agent, Bill Duffy, said the 35-year-old Noah is likely headed toward retirement after the Los Angeles Clippers waived him.
Here are five highlights of Noah’s basketball career:
Hard-working big man
Noah may not have won that elusive title, but he wasn’t about to let anyone outwork him along the way. Maybe work as hard, but not outwork. He averaged nine rebounds in his 13 seasons, including at least 10 boards per game four times. He made the All-Star team twice, was All-NBA first team once and All-Defensive team three times. Noah became one of the faces of then-Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s relentless defensive attack.
It’s difficult for a player primarily known as a defender to work his way into the MVP conversation. But in 2013-14, Noah bulldozed his way into the topic.
That season, he averaged 12.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals, and the Bulls were an elite defensive team, allowing 96 points per 100 possessions while Noah was on the court. He was the anchor. And the Bulls scored 111 points per 100 possessions with Noah on the floor.
That season, Noah was named defensive player of the year and finished fourth in the MVP voting behind Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Blake Griffin and ahead of James Harden, Steph Curry and Chris Paul.
Noah with the Bulls in 2014. (Photo: David Banks, USA TODAY Sports)
Noah relished riling up opponents whether on the court or off. Two of his most famous quips involved James’ team or city. Once, Noah called James’ Heat team “Hollywood as hell,” while also noting “they’re a good team.”
Like any good villain, Noah also irritated a fan base, ridiculing Cleveland several times. He once said, “Cleveland really sucks” and later said, ““You think Cleveland’s cool? I’ve never heard anybody say, ‘I’m going to Cleveland on vacation.’ What’s so good about Cleveland?”
James once accused Noah of stepping over the line with trash-talking. And Noah was once on the receiving end of trash talk from President Barack Obama.
According to David Axelrod, Obama’s former senior advisor, Obama said to Noah, “Where’d you get that shot? That’s the ugliest shot I’ve ever seen.”
Obama was right. Noah didn’t have a great-looking shot. But he wasn’t a liability offensively with his ability to collect offensive rebounds (3.2 per game for his career).
As Noah became more comfortable on the offensive end, he developed into a solid passer especially from the high post. During a three-year stretch, he averaged at least four assists, including a career-high 5.4 in 2013-14. He found players cutting to the basket with bounce passes, above the rim on alley-oops and running the court with outlet passes.
NCAA tournament success
Noah helped the Gators to NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007. During the 2006 tournament run, he averaged 16.2 points and 9.5 rebounds and had 16 points and nine rebounds in the championship game against UCLA and was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.