Bulls empathize with Joakim Noah
MIAMI -- Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng said center Joakim Noah has to do a better job of controlling his emotions, but Deng understood why Noah got upset at a fan during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat.
There's times where a fan like that, honestly I feel like jumping in the crowd and hitting him. We're humans, and the camera is not on that fan at all.” -- Luol Deng
Noah was fined $50,000 for the anti-gay slur he directed -- and was captured by TNT cameras -- at the fan on Sunday.
"But at the same time, there's times where a fan like that, honestly I feel like jumping in the crowd and hitting him," Deng said. "We're humans, and the camera is not on that fan at all.
"I know Jo apologized and everything, but people got to see it the other way, too. Everyone says things they don't mean, and he let the emotion get the better of him. But honestly, with a game like that, hearing that fan, I wanted to do something about it, too. Unfortunately for Jo, he's got to pay the price."
The NBA talked Monday with Noah, who again apologized. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD, said it talked to the NBA and the Bulls "to discuss next steps."
It was not what the Bulls wanted to focus on as they try to even the series on Tuesday.
"That's what's disappointing about the whole thing," Noah said. "I don't want to be a distraction to the whole team.
"I apologized for what I said. What I said wasn't right. I don't want to disrespect anybody. That's not what I'm about. I just got caught up in something a fan said and went back at him, and I'm going to face the consequences like a man."
As much as Noah didn't want his remark to become a distraction to his teammates, it was clear that it became one. Many players were peppered with questions, although all came to their center's defense.
"[Noah's] got to do a better job of controlling his emotions," Deng said. "But at the same time, us as players, everyone is always watching us.
"And Jo kind of lost his temper, he shouldn't have, but that fan should have been out of the game. He should have been thrown out way before. He just kept going at him and we're in an emotional game like that, and things aren't going Jo's way, it's just human nature to just react. I know Jo and I know he didn't mean what he said at all."
Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer knows that there are times when taunts can get under the skin of players.
"I don't know what the fan might have said to Joakim. I don't know what Joakim said to the fan, but hopefully they can have some security there to take care of the players," Boozer said. "Again, I'm proud of Joakim for apologizing and being a man about it ... fans can have the right to say what they want to say, but sometimes they may take it too far. I don't know what happened last night, I didn't hear it, I don't know what was said or what wasn't said, but regardless I feel like Joakim was the bigger man by apologizing."
Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said he didn't even know about the incident, but admitted there were times when he wasn't even sure what he was saying on the basketball floor because of the intensity of the game.
"Sometimes my mom hates looking at the game because I'll be out there cursing a little bit," Rose said. "Being a basketball player you're going to be emotional sometimes. On the court, people can say some foul things, but it's basketball. It's nothing serious, it's nothing like that, you're just trying to win a game and that's about it."
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau doesn't seem to have any doubt that Noah, and his team, will be able to put this incident, and all the extra attention, behind them.
"He's been around it his whole life," Thibodeau said. "So I think he knows how to handle that. If he made a mistake, I'm certain ... I know the type of guy he is. He's a high character guy. If he made a mistake he'll apologize, learn from it, and then hopefully he can move on."
As for Noah, he didn't want to get into specifics as to what was said, he just wanted to focus on what was ahead for the Bulls.
"It's really not about that right now," he said of the remark which set him off. "It's about winning a basketball game [Tuesday]."
Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.