Golden State Warriors forward David Lee and Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah already knew they’d be playing against each other on Friday night.
As it turns out, they’ll do the same on Feb. 17.
Lee and Noah were chosen to go to the NBA All-Star Game on Thursday, and both of the Gators’ selections were special for different reasons.
Lee, who made the Western Conference squad as a reserve, is the first Warriors player selected to the All-Star Game since Latrell Sprewell in 1997, which was the longest drought without representation for any team in NBA history.
The Feb. 17 game in Houston has significance to Lee on a personal level as well. Although this will be his second All-Star Game appearance, his first came as an injury replacement while playing for New York in 2010. This time as a reserve, Lee — now in his third season in Golden State — was voted in by the head coaches from the West.
However, Lee is especially looking forward to representing his proud franchise in Oakland, which is a surprising 26-15 at the halfway point.
“In our practice facility, there’s that All-Star chart and it stops at ’97 and there hasn’t been any since. So the whole team was really excited with the improved record this year and to get one or both of our guys on there,” Lee said. “I’m really excited to be the one that goes and represents our team. I wish (Warriors point guard) Steph (Curry) could be a part of it, and maybe he’ll still be able to. I’m just very, very excited. It’s been a long time for the Bay Area fans. Not only to have an All-Star, but to be winning games.”
Here’s a breakdown of the 29-year-old forward’s numbers and how they stack up with others around the NBA this season:
-17 games of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds (1st)
-26 double-doubles (2nd)
-19.6 points per game (12th)
-10.8 rebounds per game (8th)
-37.6 minutes per game (13th)
-52.2 field goal percentage (18th)
Lee’s minutes are a career high. He’s also averaging 3.7 assists and is shooting 79.9 percent from the free-throw line.
More importantly, Lee has been the cornerstone of Golden State’s promising 26-15 start, which would have the Warriors as the fifth seed in the extremely competitive West if the playoffs started today. The team is coming off back-to-back wins against two of the teams above them in the standings, the first a 106-99 win over the Clippers on Monday, and the second a 104-99 win over the Thunder on Wednesday.
For Noah, it was his first All-Star selection after six seasons in the NBA. He’s also the first center the Bulls have sent to the game since Artis Gilmore in 1982.
“I’m extremely excited to be recognized as an All-Star for the first time,” Noah told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s more of a team honor than an individual honor, because it would not have been possible without my teammates and coaches. I look forward to representing my teammates and the Bulls organization during All-Star Weekend.”
The 6-foot-11, 232-pounder is averaging a career-best 12.2 points per game to go along with 10.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.1 blocks. He’s recorded 21 double-doubles through 41 games, and he’s grabbed at least 13 rebounds in six of the past seven contests for the Bulls.
Noah’s minutes are slightly higher than Lee’s as he’s averaging a career-high 38.3 minutes per game, which is the eighth-highest total in the league.
But, of course, Noah’s numbers don’t sum up his impact on the floor. Look no further than Chicago’s last game against Detroit for an example.
In the final seconds of the game with the Bulls and Pistons tied 82-82, Noah dove for a ball and found a place among some photographers and cheerleaders out of bounds before saving it. The ball bounced to Marco Belinelli, who laid in the game-winner with 7.5 seconds left in the eventual 85-82 victory.
Luol Deng will join him in representing the Bulls (25-16), who are the fourth seed in the East and only three games back of the top spot although star point guard Derrick Rose has yet to return.
Noah has come a long way from his early struggles in the league. In his rookie season, after getting into a shouting match with an assistant coach, his teammates voted unanimously to bench him for a game.
Six years later, he’s being voted into his first All-Star Game by his conference’s head coaches.