He might descend from sports royalty and the glamor of a famous father and a beauty queen mother, but Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah is not shying away from the dirty work in pursuit of an NBA title.
The 2.11m Noah, son of 1983 French Open champion Yannick Noah and Cecilia Rodhe, Miss Sweden 1978, is a pivotal cog in top-seeded Chicago’s blueprint for success in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.
League Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose may direct the team’s offense with sensational verve, but defense is the Bulls’ bottom line, with Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik tenacious at that end of the floor.
Noah’s enthusiasm and energy are infectious, his fierceness contagious on a team that led the NBA in defense and must cool off the Heat’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to advance to the NBA Finals.
Mission accomplished in Game 1.
The gap-toothed Noah, his long, frizzy hair pulled back in a pony tail, had a game-high 14 rebounds, including eight off the offensive glass, to help the Bulls charge past the Heat 103-82 in the opening game of their best-of-seven series.
Add two blocks, two steals, four assists, nine points and an unbridled spirit for a full picture of Noah’s worth.
“He’s awesome,” forward Boozer told reporters. “His energy has been great. He’s so emotional it’s phenomenal.”
The 26-year-old Noah, taken ninth overall in the 2007 NBA Draft after winning back-to-back US national college titles at Florida, did not travel a routine path to the NBA.
Noah grew up in Manhattan and attended a private UN school, but there was nothing genteel about his game, which was influenced by New York City streetball tournaments where he was dubbed “The Noble One.”
There is more to Noah’s sporting lineage than just Yannick, who besides his Grand Slam singles and doubles crowns at the French Open, also captained France in the Davis Cup and Fed Cup.
Noah’s paternal grandfather Zacharie Noah became a professional soccer player in France after emigrating as a child from Cameroon, and his Sedan team won the 1961 French Cup.
His grandmother, Marie-Claire, was the former captain of the French national basketball team.
Winning fuels his passion.
After leading the Florida Gators to victory over UCLA in 2006 for the school’s first NCAA tournament title and being named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, he decided to return the next year, where he won another title.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was impressed with Noah in Sunday’s opening game.
“[Noah’s] effort exceeded ours on many occasions and it impacted the game,” Spoelstra told reporters. “That’s what this series is about — endurance, mental and physical endurance.”