Bulls center Joakim Noah became one of just six players in NBA history to record a 20-20-10 triple-double with blocks. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Back in December, Joakim Noah said he’d haunt the City of Brotherly Love “for the rest of my career.”

No one thought he’d channel the ghosts of Shaquille O’Neal or Hakeem Olajuwon.

Noah recorded 23 points, 21 rebounds and 11 blocks for a monstrous triple-double in leading the Bulls to a 93-82 win over the 76ers in Chicago on Thursday night, numbers duplicated only by those aforementioned legends since 1985.

“That’s legendary stuff,” Carlos Boozer told the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve never seen a center do what he did. And we needed every one of them.”

It was the third career triple-double for Noah, but this one put the Bulls center in rarefied company, making him one of just six players in NBA history to have a 20-20-10 triple-double with blocks. Only O’Neal, Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, Shawn Bradley, and now Noah have had such a game.

Noah has made it known that the fans in Philadelphia fed him with lots of motivation in last year’s playoffs. The crowd cheered after Noah went down with an ankle injury in Game 3, and the Bulls were eventually ousted by the 76ers. However, Chicago has officially swept its regular season series with Philadelphia 3-0 following last night’s win, and Noah was a big reason why. He averaged 18.7 points and 13.7 rebounds per game in those three victories.

Noah’s performance on Thursday also made a statement to a team that had supposedly acquired one of the two best centers in the NBA, Andrew Bynum, over the offseason. Last season, there was plenty of talk about who the best big man was, Bynum or Dwight Howard. After the Lakers made a trade that sent Bynum to the 76ers and Howard to L.A., the two anointed “best bigs in the game” exchanged jabs and voiced who they felt was No. 1 and No. 2.

Noah, selected to his first All-Star Game this season and the lead candidate for NBA Defensive Player of the Year, is making a strong case to hold that title now.

Here’s how Noah stacks up against the other top centers in the NBA:

Joakim Noah – 11.9 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 2.2 bpg, 4.2 apg, 1.3 spg, 46.2 FG%, 74.5 FT%
Dwight Howard – 16.2 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 2.3 bpg, 1.5 apg, 1.1 spg, 58.3 FG%, 48.3 FT%
Tyson Chandler – 11.4 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 1.0 apg, 0.6 spg, 65.8 FG%, 68.9 FT%
Brook Lopez – 18.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.2 bpg, 1.0 apg, 0.5 spg, 51.4 FG%, 75.8 FT%
Marc Gasol – 13.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 3.8 apg, 1.0 spg, 47.6 FG%, 86.9 FT%

Out of those players, Noah is proving himself to be the most versatile. Noah is quick enough to keep pace with the trending, perimeter-oriented centers that can force bigs to defend the 3-point line, and he’s strong enough to hold his ground in the paint against the traditional ones that play with their back to the basket. He’s also one of the best pick-and-roll defenders in the NBA.

Aside from his versatility, his motor runs non stop. Noah is one of only 11 players in the league averaging at least 38 minutes per game and is the only center in that bunch. He’s fourth in the NBA in rebounds per game (11.4) and fourth in offensive rebounds per game (3.9).

“He’s an energy, effort player,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “When you get an effort like that, that unites and inspires your team.”

And the Bulls continue to feed off of Noah with Chicago still not sure when it’ll get star point guard Derrick Rose back from his torn ACL. Noah himself is still battling plantar fasciitis in his right foot, which forced him to miss the first three games of February.

With Chicago (33-25) holding onto the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference, Noah’s historic numbers pale in comparison to the one his team added to the win column.

“I wanted to get (the triple-double), but I wanted to win more,” Noah said.

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