Life on the Island of Noah
Joakim Noah's 'game' against the Cavs justifies one writer's faith
Have you ever been in one of those situations where you see -- or feel -- something that no one else around you sees or feels? Or have you ever been in one of those situations where no one even understands where you're coming from?
Ever visited that island?
A few years ago on "Quite Frankly," Stephen A. Smith's old ESPN show, I was put on that island. (Maybe I put myself there; depends on who's asking.) For the sake of this column, let's call it the "Island of Noah." Just before the 2007 NBA draft, I got into a "discussion" with Stephen A., the host, about the difference/disparity between the future value of Greg Oden and the future value of the player I felt should have been the No. 1 pick that year.
As you might expect, I got called all types of crazy, all types of fools and ignoramuses. I was asked, repeatedly, "Do you know what in the hell you're talkin' about?"
Even now, to this day, I can still hear my man Stephen A.'s voice: "You're telling me that Joakim Noah is going to be better in the NBA than Greg Oden?! That if you were a GM, you'd take him as the No. 1 pick?! That he has the best upside of anyone not named Kevin Durant in this draft?!"
And it wasn't just Stephen A. People who'd seen the show would stop me on the street to ask if I really believed what I said. When I'd answer "Yes," they'd follow up with this: "Are you drunk or on something?"
I was reminded of it during every radio interview, and every time I walked into a bar or a barbershop. Even my kids would point at me and laugh.
Gilligan didn't have it this bad on his island.
Sometimes you wait years to be right about something. Sometimes you wait years for everyone else to see your vision. To feel it. In the case of Noah, the waiting is over. It isn't that I have to be right -- it isn't about that -- but wrong can be a lonely island to live on.
Yes, Joakim has officially arrived. We thought his arrival came with that on-the-run, close-to-series-changing dunk against the Celtics in last year's playoffs. But now, going into Game 3 against the Cavs, it's authorized.
In his own brilliant way, Noah has distracted us from what's real. The fact that there was a "fight" between John Paxson and Vinny Del Negro, the fact that the Bulls were (on paper) severely overmatched going into this series all that is forgotten (at least for the first two games), thanks to Joakim redirecting the spotlight.
He's the talk of two towns. He let his mouth start it and his play finish it.
Talk mad "ish" and follow it up with 25 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, two steals and zero turnovers? He's making it really hard for anyone to ignore anything he says or does. He's making others see what I saw, feel what I felt three years ago. He's making the island a destination spot.
But most important in the arc of Noah's ascent is this: He's (finally!) giving the Bulls an identity.
See, there's something to be said about players who want to be the a-hole. The ones who want you to love to hate them. The ones who establish themselves as the villain, more than just playing the role. In Noah's case, he's doing exactly that. And in doing it, the NBA's new Ice Cube (note: figure that one out) has taken the pressure -- and the focus -- off the Bulls and placed the bulls-eye on himself. When a team that just squeaked into the playoffs is going up against the team that is almost universally favored to win the championship, that takes the weight off.
With Noah coming into his own on and off the court, he's giving us a glimpse of what's possible in the immediate (and long-term) future, and he's giving Bulls management (whoever that might be by next season) a triangle foundation on which to build. Noah, Luol Deng and Derrick Rose -- together -- are almost as promising as OKC's trio of Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green.
That's what leaders do. Yes, Rose is still the leader of this team, but he is no longer alone.
This is what I tried to explain to Stephen A. and everyone else a few years ago: Being special and having an impact does not always come in the best-player package. They say you can't teach height? Well, try to teach everything Noah brings to the table.
Good luck with that.
Now, there may be some of you who think Joakim should shut up. There may be some who want him to shut up, who think that with Game 3 coming up Thursday night and the Bulls already down 2-0, he should stay away from microphones and away from the media and away from making any more asinine comments that every other team and all their fans around the league can (and will) use as radio sound bites or locker-room incentive.
(I know: LeBron doesn't exactly need any more reasons to score another 40.)
But there's an old American proverb: Never let your mouth write a check your a-- can't cash. Here's the beauty of Joakim Noah: His mouth writes checks that don't bounce.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN.com.