Joakim Noah typically manufactures energy from his own limitless supply, but he had a little more in store for the 76ers last night.
The Chicago Bulls’ center never forgot Game 3 of last year’s Eastern Conference quarterfinals, where the notorious fans in Philadelphia cheered when he severely sprained his ankle. Noah was forced to miss the rest of the playoffs, then the Olympics.
That was a motivational catalyst all offseason for Noah, who felt “disrespected.”
“I’ve been thinking about it all summer,” Noah said. “All summer, I just couldn’t wait to come back here. I just felt like when I went down last year just people cheering and stuff, I felt like that was real disrespectful, and it was definitely motivating for me to work even harder to work in the summer.”
Noah, one of the main reasons why the Bulls are staying afloat while star point guard Derrick Rose recovers from a torn ACL, had 21 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks and 1 steal as Chicago won 96-89, its fourth victory in five games.
Noah says this won’t be the last time he haunts the City of Brotherly Love.
“And I’m going to do it for the rest of my career,” Noah said. “Every time I come here.
“(The booing) motivates me. I’ll never forget what happened in the playoffs when I went down, and I will use that as motivation every time I come into this building.”
Being the villain is no issue for Noah. In fact, he relishes the role. He was asked after the game if he was listening to what fans were saying to him.
“Nah,” he said. “But they could hear what I was saying, though.”
However, there’s a chance Noah hears what others around the league are saying about him.
While Noah received a huge honor when he was named one of the top 75 players in NCAA Tournament history on Tuesday, he’s in the running for another one: NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
The Chicago Bulls’ center is the cornerstone of arguably the best defensive team in the NBA. He’s recorded 49 blocks on the young season, which is sixth most in the NBA, but it’s his overall activity on that side of the floor that is causing some — including ESPN NBA analyst Kurt Rambis as of Wednesday — to believe Noah will win the award.
Noah was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2011.
Last Friday in a 108-104 win over the Detroit Pistons, Noah recorded 30 points and 23 rebounds, setting career-highs in both categories without a play even being called for him. His previous highs were 26 points and 21 rebounds.
More incredibly, Noah’s stat sheet against the Pistons also included six assists, which made him only the fourth player in the last 25 seasons to put up such numbers: Kevin Garnett (2003), Dirk Nowitzki (2002) and Charles Barkley (1988).