Joakim Noah had been in a solemn mood since the death last week of his basketball mentor, Tyrone Green. Noah declined to talk about it for two days and was concise when speaking to the media after the Game 1 loss to Washington.
On Monday, Noah was more like his usual self. Upon sitting down on the stage, preparing to accept the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year Award, he smiled at family members seated in the front row.
He called his sister and her friends, "All the beautiful little hippies," and gave shoutouts to his mom and dad. His dad, former French Open tennis champ Yannick Noah, was on hand, was his mom, Sweden native Cecilia Rodhe.
"My parents divorced when I was really young," Joakim said. "But dad, I just want to tell you, you've always been there for me and I appreciate you so much, man. All the work ethic, it all comes from you.
"Mom, seriously, I don't know what to say. Every day I'm sorry for all the hard times I put you through; single mom in New York City. It's not easy, but I know you're proud."
Noah's victory came as no surprise. He received 100 first-place votes out of 125 ballots cast. The second-place finisher, Indiana's Roy Hibbert, and third-place DeAndre Jordan from the L.A. Clippers got 8 first-place votes each.
Noah is the second Bulls player to win the defensive award, joining Michael Jordan in 1987-88.
"This award is a team award," Noah added. "This wouldn't be possible without my boy Kirk Hinrich picking up full court; Thibs being on him every day. Guys like Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, my whole team. Through all the adversity we've gone through, they keep fighting. I'm so proud of that. It's bigger than awards."
Noah has developed a worldwide following as a hardworking, emotional and intense basketball player. But he's also an entertainer, which was evident during his news conference at the Marriott Lincolnshire Resort. His talk didn't last long, but he told several good stories.
On Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: "I remember one day we were working out at the Berto Center and Thibs was putting me through a really grueling workout, and I said, 'You know Thibs, if we weren't winning games, I would really, really hate you.' He said, 'Trust me Jo, I feel the same way.'"
On Green, the renowned New York basketball coach who passed away at 63: "My mom who looked him up in the Yellow Pages. We moved from France to New York when I was 13. We met and right away he was talking about taking it to the next level, I've coached Lamar Odom, I've coached Chamique Holdsclaw. I'm like, 'This guy is talking a lot of trash.'
"He just always believed in me. He would always tell me, if you want to get better, you've got to stay with me in the summer. While my mother and sister would leave and travel in the summertime … I stayed on his couch, became the ballboy at ABCD (camp).
"I know that I wouldn't be in this position right now if it wasn't for him. He was really like another father figure to me. It's hard to talk about. There's so much going on right now. But that was my guy. I love him."
On winning the award: "All I did was I just kept working, Being in this position means a lot, but it's not about awards. This is a team game. Winning is what really makes me happy. These awards are great, but it's not the reason I play the game."