LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. — Dedicating the award to his recently deceased basketball mentor, New York City basketball coach Tyrone Green, Monday afternoon Joakim Noah was presented with a trophy commemorating him as 2013-14 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.
“Never. I never thought I’d be in this position right now. All I did was, I just kept working. To be in this position means a lot, but it’s not about awards. This is a team game. It’s about winning,” the Bulls’ All-Star center said, as family and his friends looked on proudly. “This is very humbling to be in this situation right now.
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“I think it’s just the commitment that you’ve got to put into your craft every day. Even at this point in my career, there’s so many distractions all the time. You just have to stay focused on your craft, not just at the NBA level,” he added. “These awards are great, but it’s not the reason I play the game.”
Noah was sixth in the league in blocked shots at 1.51 per game, third in rebounding at 11.3 boards a night and also averaged 1.24 steals per contest. More importantly, he was the anchor of a defense that held opponents to a league-low 91.8 points per game.
“We were up against it this year and he didn’t let it fall apart and that was huge for our team. I think he’ll continue to get better,” said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, the architect of that defense. “He’s been great for our entire team, in terms of his work ethic, setting the tone for us and there’s more to come.
“I also want to thank Jo for sabotaging his draft workouts so he could fall to nine and we could get him,” the coach quipped. “In my four years and just watching him, and at the start of his career, I was on an opposing bench, so I know how I felt about him when we were playing against him and each year, I think he’s gotten better and better, and I think that’s a testament to his will and determination.”
Bulls general manager Gar Forman added: “I can’t think of anyone who is so deserving of a prestigious award like this more so than Joakim Noah.
“The first time I ever got a chance to see Joakim play in person was when I went to Florida and it was a practice setting,” the executive recounted. “It was just Joakim, his coaches and his teammates, and the thing that jumped out right away was how ultra-competitive Joakim was.
“During the pre-draft process, when John Paxson and myself first got to sit down with Joakim, and how impressed we were with his personality and how impressed we were with his passion and I.Q. for the game,” he continued. “What was evident when we got done with that process was that Joakim Noah was everything that we wanted as far as what we wanted for a Chicago Bull. It’s been really fun for all of us to watch him and his game evolve and grow over the years.
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“What Joakim probably is, is the best teammate that I’ve had a chance to witness that I’ve been with the Chicago Bulls,” Forman went on to say. “Joakim Noah is a winner and I’ve always thought you can tell a lot about people when there’s adversity and I think we saw this year when we hit tough times, that there’s nobody you want in the trenches with you more than Joakim Noah.
“In a lot of ways, this is a team award, but I can’t think of any individual that is more deserving of this type of recognition, especially on the defensive end, where he’s got such great versatility defensively and he was the leader of our defense.”