The hype is real as Joakim Noah returns to Chicago

Before Thursday's game at the United Center, Joakim Noah sat down in front of the reporters and told the most Joakim Noah story imaginable.

He referenced a gathering of former teammates and Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau in Chicago on Wednesday night.

"It felt great to just spend some time with teammates I hadn't seen in a long time," Noah said. "Being able to talk about the memories and the good times, the hard times. I mean it's like I look at Kirk Hinrich's face and right away I was thinking about Game 2 in the Celtics (playoff) series (in 2009).

"I messed up an assignment on a switch and Ray Allen hit the 3, and we talked about it yesterday and I swear I had tears in my eyes just talking to him about it because that's how much I cared about him. You know, I was like, 'Dang, I let Cap down.'"

As a bonus, we found out Noah refers to Hinrich as "Cap," short for Captain Kirk. Based on Instagram documentation, the gathering also included Taj Gibson, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Brad Miller, Kurt Thomas, Omer Asik, Aaron Gray, Keith Bogans, Thabo Sefolosha and probably several others.

There was a time, around the spring of 2012, when it seemed likely Noah and Derrick Rose would be the next two players to have their numbers retired by the Bulls. It could still happen, but the team obviously passed on that opportunity Thursday.

"I don't think about it at all," he said. "To me, to have a moment where I see my little sisters smiling, I see my old teammates smiling, I see my mom proud. My dad flew in from Africa, I don't get to see him that much, and just to see how proud my family is of the journey and to be able to have a moment with them like this.

"To me, it was always about that part. It was always about bringing your people together and be able to share good times. When you're playing, you're caught up in so much other things. So to have a moment like this, to me is bigger than anything."

The Bulls couldn't have picked a better game for a Noah tribute. With the Knicks in town it brought back a couple of prominent teammates in Rose and Gibson, and it created a coaching matchup of Thibodeau, who coached Noah for five years with the Bulls, and Billy Donovan, Noah's college coach at Florida.

Noah talked about how coaching never appealed to him and to do that job, you need to be a little sick. Needless to say, that includes Thibodeau, right?

"Thib, yeah, he's sick for sure," Noah said. "But I love him. I love him and it's great to be here today for this game because Thibs and coach Donovan are two father figures to me, two guys I learned a lot from."

The Bulls named Noah an official team ambassador Thursday, and he said he'll be spending more time in Chicago, doing things for the Bulls and working with his foundation. Noah has two kids and is planning to get married this summer.

Most every time out on Thursday was spent with a spotlight on Noah or introducing former teammates. Some others who showed up for the game were Ben Gordon, Mike Dunleavy and Brian Scalabrine.

With Noah in the house, the Bulls going for a 5-0 start and the Knicks as a worthy opponent, it definitely felt like old times at the United Center.

"The energy of this place brought out the crazy side of me," Noah said. "There were times in this building where I didn't even feel my legs when I was running up and down the court. That's how hype I was. You can't replicate those feelings in anything else in life.

"That kind of adrenaline, even just driving on Ogden right now and making that left, I'm like, 'Oh my God.' These feelings, they're hard to describe. But I feel like it was really a blessing to be able to have that for eight, nine years. It was really special."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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Joakim Noah celebrates after the Bulls defeated the Boston Celtics 128-127 in triple overtime during Game 6 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Thursday, April 30, 2009, in Chicago. Associated Press
Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. Associated Press
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