Bulls set to celebrate Noah's colorful, passionate playing career

Seersucker suit, big hair, peace sign while shaking hands with Commissioner David Stern.

That was the introduction of Joakim Noah to the NBA world on draft night.

Early in his Bulls career, Noah was flamboyant and outspoken. He seemed to relish being a villain on the court. As much as he fed off the positive energy at home games, he craved the negative energy of an entire arena rooting against him on the road.

But that path didn't last. Noah was too good a person, too easy to root for to play the villain. Well, maybe not in Cleveland, but he certainly went over well in Chicago.

The unofficial end to his playing days will happen Thursday at the United Center when the Bulls celebrate Noah's NBA career during the game against the Knicks.

Noah had a rough ending to the New York portion of his career, admitting he partied too much after joining the Knicks as a free agent. But it was in character for Noah to admit his mistake when he didn't have to.

Noah found trouble a few months into his rookie season with the Bulls when he was suspended for a verbal tirade toward assistant coach Ron Adams. Confused by why his intro to the NBA was such as struggle, hurt that older teammates intervened and stretched the suspension from one game to two, Noah didn't hide. He stood outside the locker room in Philadelphia and answered questions about the incident.

As time went on, Noah seemed more cautious about the things he said. His "What's cool about Cleveland" routine during the 2010 playoffs will always draw a laugh from Bulls fans. His steal and dunk in triple overtime against Boston in the 2009 playoffs will remain one of the team's popular highlights.

Before being drafted by the Bulls in 2007, Noah played for current Bulls coach Billy Donovan at Florida, winning a pair of national championships.

"When he was the Final Four MVP, he was kind of like this lightning rod," Donovan said. "Sports Illustrated wanted to put him on the cover. Who's this kid with this energy, 7-feet, ponytail, energy, enthusiasm? He was kind of like this lightning rod that hit college basketball.

"Then pretty soon because our whole team came back and we were ranked No. 1 in the country, he immediately turned into a villain. I think for him, that was really difficult to handle, because there was nothing he did to create that other than the fact that he was incredibly successful."

He found a way to adjust. Noah's life growing up was unlike no other. He started in France, where his father Yannick was not only a French Open champ, but one of the country's biggest pop stars.

When basketball became a possibility, he joined his mother Cecilia in New York City. He wasn't ready for NYC basketball, but on weekends, Noah would walk past the tourists in Times Square and ride the train to Queens for individual workouts. He later took a bus across two boroughs to attend Brooklyn Poly Prep.

Donovan said he thinks Noah has better ways to spend his time these days than be an NBA assistant coach. Few athletes in Chicago have done as much as Noah to help the community and at least try to address the violence that has plagued the city.

"He's always been that way," Donovan said. "He's been incredibly generous with his time and his money in terms of trying to help people. I know the city of Chicago is dear to his heart and whatever he can do to come back and help the city he's going to do that, so I think that's his focus right now."

At one point, it seemed likely that Noah's No. 13 and Derrick Rose's No. 1 would be the next two jerseys retired by the Bulls. It didn't work out that way, at least not yet, but at least Noah won't need to cut Thursday's party short.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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