Joakim Noah: “This is a big year for us”


Sep 9

One of the more cultured players in the NBA, Joakim Noah, as usual, has enjoyed an eventful offseason with trips to Africa and China.

But the Bulls center is back in Chicago now for most of September with the team set to open training camp at the Berto Center in just two and a half weeks.

While Noah has battled plantar fasciitis the last couple seasons, perhaps most notably when he played through excruciating pain in Chicago’s seven-game series win over the Brooklyn Nets in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, he’s optimistic he’s done everything he can to be prepared physically for another season.

Joakim Noah dunks against the Nets“Expectations don’t mean anything. They don’t help you win basketball games,” said Noah. “We know what we have to do and we’re excited. We just want the people to be proud.”

“We all know that this is going to be an exciting year,” Noah told following a workout at the Berto Center. “So I’m just trying to be as ready as possible for when it starts. We’re very excited about getting our guys back. Everybody knows what’s at stake. This is a big year for us and I just want to be as ready as possible for it.”

Noah said his offseason training has changed over the years, specifically with how he’s needed to respond to the various injuries he’s faced. But now, the seven-year veteran feels as equipped as ever to take on those challenges.

“I think you get smarter as you go on because you gain more experience,” said Noah, who was named an NBA All-Star for the first time last season. “So I’m more experienced, but I am also more in tune with my body and I train smarter. I’m always willing to learn from new people; people with different athletic backgrounds. I just want to be as prepared as possible so that when it starts, it’s not a question of not being in shape or anything like that.”

For Noah, part of being ready comes after resting at the onset of the summer to heal the plantar fasciitis. It’s a condition that Noah knows all too well, and one that he hopes to not endure again.

“Obviously I’ve dealt with those injuries in the past and I’m hoping it’s all behind me,” said Noah. “Only time will tell, of course. That’s the reality of it. I just want to be as prepared as possible. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. But with no regrets, because I’ll know that I put everything I have into it.”

Noah has been in and out of the Berto Center all summer, according to Bulls General Manager Gar Forman. Noting that Noah is enthusiastic and ready to go, as always, Forman added that he’s “in a really good place” physically.

As ready as Noah is physically, he’s equally refreshed mentally thanks to offseason trips to Africa and China.

Noah’s family on his father’s side is from Cameroon, a country in the west Central Africa region. It is there where he has constructed two basketball courts—one next to where his grandmother built a school and another adjacent to where his father, 1983 French Open champion Yannick Noah, built a tennis court when he became a professional athlete.

Giving back is of extreme importance to Noah and he said he hopes to build courts annually in Cameroon, where basketball hasn’t had much of a presence. Noah wants to change that and create some culture surrounding the sport while working on a legacy of his own.

“Going back to Africa is always special,” said Noah. “To me, it’s very meaningful to do things when heritage from my family is on the same piece of land for three generations now. Being able to do that is special and it makes me realize that there are things much bigger than basketball.

“If anything, Africa makes me stronger mentally,” added Noah. “It puts everything into perspective. It makes me realize how fortunate I am. When I play the game, I play for more than just me. I play for family members over there, the people over there and of course people here too.”

Noah also visited China for the first time this summer, where he connected with Yao Ming and familiarized himself with the work he’s doing with his foundation that benefits China’s youth. Noah came away extremely impressed with Yao’s impact, saying he’s never seen firsthand such a strong presence from any other basketball player.

Part of Noah’s summer was devoted to his Noah’s Arc Foundation, which helps children develop a stronger sense of self & promotes positive self-expression through sports and the arts.

While Noah certainly made an impact of his own throughout the course of his travels, he now is eager to be a difference maker where most people know him—on the basketball court.

“Just to keep doing what I’m doing,” said Noah of his focus between now and training camp. “Train as much as possible, eat healthy, sleep and stay out of trouble. I think I’ll be alright.”

Last season, Noah and the Bulls encountered a great deal of adversity, suffering countless injuries to key players while Derrick Rose worked his way through rehabilitation of his knee. Chicago, however, still managed to reach the second round of the playoffs.

Now, of course, Rose is back and Noah is healthy. And Noah can’t hold back a smile when asked about the return of Rose.

“I’m just as excited as everybody else, man,” he said.

Expectations will be high for the Bulls, but Noah isn’t about to concern himself with those.

“It doesn’t matter. Expectations don’t mean anything. They don’t help you win basketball games,” said Noah. “We know what we have to do and we’re excited. We just want the people to be proud.”

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