Joakim Noah motivated by grandfather
CHICAGO -- Before going out and having one of his best quarters of the season Tuesday night, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah stood on a baseline and searched the United Center crowd for the source of his motivation.
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Zacharie Noah, Joakim's 72-year-old grandfather from Cameroon, was watching his grandson play for the first time as a professional.
"It's unbelievable," the elder Noah said through an interpreter. "I'm very happy to come to the playoffs and see my grandson doing great things."
The 26-year-old Noah doesn't usually need extra motivation, but his normally high motor was obviously revved up a gear in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Indiana Pacers. Noah, who averaged 11.7 points during the regular season, scored 10 in the first quarter to go with two blocked shots, three rebounds and three assists.
He finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and four blocks as the Bulls won 116-89 to advance to the second round.
Zacharie was shown on the Jumbotron at the end of the first quarter, a great sight for Joakim.
"That was exciting, seeing him and getting love from the crowd," Joakim said. "I look up and I see my grandfather up there, embarrassed, they don't have that [where he's from]. They don't have that. So for him to be in that situation. I don't think he knew he was going to get love like that in Chicago. They don't have buildings like this [where he's from]."
He blew kisses to his grandfather before the game and clapped for him when they showed him on the scoreboard before the beginning of the second quarter. And after a shoving match led to the ejection of Indiana's Josh McRoberts in the third quarter, Noah winked at his grandfather.
"Yes, it's true," Zacharie said, when asked if he could tell his grandson was motivated by his presence. "He's playing very well.
"I'm so proud to be here."
Joakim makes sure to visit his grandfather regularly.
"I try to go back to Cameroon once a year," he said recently. "But to have him [here], he's never felt the UC, they don't have things like that in Cameroon. They don't have the United Center out there. They have soccer ... but not the UC."
Joakim said his grandfather was a professional soccer player, and those athletic genes were passed to former French Open Champion Yannick Noah, who is Joakim's father.
"He doesn't know anything [about basketball], but he'll feel it, though," Noah said of Zacharie. "He'll feel it. That's all that matters. Sometimes it's not about knowing about X's and O's and pick and rolls, it's just feeling the atmosphere."
Zacharie, who watches the Bulls on television in Cameroon, obviously enjoyed the atmosphere. He was all smiles during halftime as fans came up and asked to take pictures with him. Just like his grandson, Zacharie Noah had no problem displaying his emotions.
"I think he should come to every game. I'll pay for the ticket," Bulls guard Kyle Korver said.
Roman Modrowski is a senior editor for ESPNChicago.com.