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ATLANTA — Joakim Noah was an All-Star, a Defensive Player of The Year, and an all-around winner. Being a two time national champion at the University of Florida, and an elite player on a Chicago Bulls team that was consistently a contender, he had a serious case to be a Hall of Famer.
On this night he was sitting at his locker, shirt off with his feet in an ice bucket. The Memphis Grizzlies had just gotten their butts kicked by the Atlanta Hawks.
Just five years ago, it would have been hard to imagine the two-time All-Star would be coming off of the bench for a lottery-bound team. Things went south when he left the Bulls for a massive $70-plus million contract to join the New York Knicks. Phil Jackson was the one who signed him, and it was one of the many reasons Jackson was fired as president of basketball operations of the Knicks. The contract duration was four years, but he would only be on their roster for just two years. In those two seasons, he played only 53 of a possible 164 games. Not even 33 percent of the games.
After being the ultimate winner, he became a loser. Such a wonderful basketball career appeared to be rapidly ruined. That is until he found a home with the Grizzlies this season. After being bought out by the Knicks he was given an opportunity to come to Memphis in November. Playoffs, All-Star appearances and accolades don’t appear to be in the cards right now, but he has become a productive player for the first time since 2015-16.
“I think that it just feels good to play basketball,” Noah told Amico Hoops. “I think that goes for everybody in the league. When you have belief and your coach believes in you, and you have a defined role that’s how you build your confidence.”
There was an abundance of reasons those two seasons in New York did not work out, but one was totally out of his or anyone’s control. During his final year in Chicago, he suffered a shoulder injury, and with the Knicks he had a knee issue and surgery on his rotator cuff.
“I’m just happy that I’m able to be healthy, and play basketball,” he said.
With the Knicks, the deal was long-term. In fact, they were just trying to find a way to get rid of him. In Memphis, this deal is temporary — just a one-year deal. Right now, Noah is just living in the moment.
“For sure,” Noah said when asked if he could see himself with the Grizzlies next season. “I think that right now, I’m a stay-in-the moment person. Who knows what could happen? But overall, I really appreciate Memphis for giving me this opportunity, and I’ll definitely keep that in consideration when summer hits.”
Things just didn’t work on the court or off the court last season. Ironically he grew up in New York City, but maybe being home wasn’t a good thing. In an interview on the Chris Vernon Show in December, Noah said he was too “lit” to be playing in New York, essentially admitting to partying too much.
He is averaging 6.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in Memphis and revealed to Amico Hoops he is living alone for the first time in his life.
“It’s the south, so it’s a lot more laid back,” he said. “I think that for what I needed it couldn’t be a better fit. I’m focused on my craft.
“I have zero distractions. I came to Memphis by myself, so this is the first time that I live by myself. This is the first time I ever lived by myself in my life. I’m 34 years old, and you know it’s also you learn and you grow when you have that time for yourself.”