NEW ORLEANS — Just because Joakim Noah was selected as an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve for the second consecutive season doesn’t mean his underdog mentality is going anywhere.
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“It’s definitely not a trend,” the Bulls center said on a conference call with reporters Thursday night, after learning he was an All-Star.
“I’m just happy, man. I’m really happy,” Noah said of his reaction. “I’m not going to take any of these experiences for granted. I feel so blessed and really thankful.”
Noah, who is in the midst of a streak of 17 straight games with double-digit rebounds, is averaging 11.7 points, 11.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.4 blocked shots and 1.1 steals per game this season. But it’s a campaign that’s been filled with adversity for both him personally and the Bulls as a whole.
“It was a tough beginning of the year. I trained really hard in the summer to be prepared for the year. I had an unfortunate little setback with my hamstring and it was disappointing. But we’ve gone through a lot of adversity throughout the year, losing Derrick and then losing Lu was tough, too. So we’ve gone through a lot as a team, but I think we’re growing as a team and to me, that’s all that matters and I think that I wouldn’t be in this position right now if it wasn’t for my teammates,” Noah explained. “I play off my teammates. My teammates find me for layups and I find them to shoot for open shots and layups, too. So you’ve got to credit them for improvement and playing with that fighting spirit.
“You can’t take anything for granted. You never know. A lot can happen in the season, a lot of ups and downs. I think we dealt with a lot. A lot of punches were thrown at us. We’ve always fought back. I think this team is resilient and I think that there’s a long journey ahead,” he went on to say. “The second half of the season is going to be no joke, but we’re excited. I think we’re getting better every day and I’ll always cherish these moments.”
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Noah is reluctant to focus on his own game, but admitted that making that the honor was something that’s crossed his mind during the season.
“Yeah, it goes through your mind. But I’m just happy. It’s an unbelievable honor to be selected to the All-Star Game, play against the best players in the world,” he said. “Very humbling and I’m happy hard work is paying off. Even though it’s not my priority, it’s still a good achievement and I’m proud of it.”
At the same time, he doesn’t recall much about his debut appearance last year, in which he scored eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
“I don’t really remember it too much. I don’t remember the game too much, but I just remember my father sitting there with my coach, Mr. Green, who practically raised me in New York, like another father figure to me,” he said. “Having both of them sitting at the game and just being able to watch me play in the All-Star Game, I was really proud to have my loved ones watching it and I know they were proud, as well.”
While last year was a family-friendly affair, Noah implied that this time around, he’s more focused on celebrating the experience with friends.
“Just going with my guys. Just bringing my crew. I’m excited. I’m bringing the whole wolf pack this time,” the charismatic center quipped. “If you’re there, you’ll see us mingling around probably.”
As usual, Noah was full of platitudes for his adopted hometown of Chicago.
“The United Center is a special place and I feel like I’ve fought a lot of battles in the United Center, a lot of great memories. The fans are always great, they’re always passionate about their team,” he said. “We’ve got the best fans in the world and I’ve been in Chicago for seven years, so it’s kind of like a second home to me now. So when I play out there on the court, I try to represent for the city.”
He also credited Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau for his development as a player, even if the two aren’t always on the same page from a personal standpoint.
“Coach has been huge. I think that he’s probably the hungriest guy I’ve ever been around. He’s really passionate about the game. All he cares about is the game, it seems like,” Noah explained. “We’ve gone through a lot as the player-coach relationship, I guess. But I definitely admire his work ethic. He definitely instilled that in his players.”
When the 28-year-old’s career is all said and done, Noah would hope to be known as a champion, something he accomplished on the collegiate level at Florida. But the team-first big man will also retire with some individual accolades one day, such as being a two-time NBA All-Star, even if he insists he doesn’t consider his eventual legacy as a professional.
“Never. I never think about anything like that. I’m just trying to live in the moment, enjoy it, enjoy this experience because you never know,” Noah said. “It could be over at any time, so just appreciate playing for such a great organization and just hope we can win even bigger.”