To Joakim, and the greatest team of all time.

It’s no secret that I love basketball. I have for most of my life. I have probably told this story before, but I’m going to tell it again anyway.

I think I was 4 or 5 when I first started watching. I remember seeing a commercial for it on ABC and I was captivated. I don’t know why, but there was something about the game that called to me. I remember tuning in to watch on our second TV one night. I watched it by myself whilst my family watched a movie in another room. I loved every second of it.

This lead to me watching more games, getting a miniature hoop, a basketball, and finally a Chicago Bulls t-shirt which would start a lifelong love affair (read obsession) with the Bulls, and ultimately the city of Chicago. By the time Space Jam was released, I was already sold on the sport, but it came along just in case. I was a massive Looney Tunes fan as well, so I felt as though it were made just for me.

When Michael retired, the Bulls started to fade into obscurity and the NBA went with it. Not for me, but here in Australia, it felt like it had disappeared. Sometime early on in my teenage years, basketball had faded out of my life. Not because I wanted it to, but because of a lack of availability. The internet didn’t really have a strong foothold, so I didn’t have any way to watch the games, or even check the scores. Nobody else talked about it, so I stopped as well.

The next few years were spent in an emo phase. I also became obsessed with professional wrestling – something which I had enjoyed in my youth, but never really dove in to headfirst. That soon changed. As time went on, I barely thought about basketball at all.

One day, seemingly out of nowhere, I thought of the Chicago Bulls and the sport that I had left behind. I needed it back in my life. It started with a video game – NBA 2K7, I believe Shaq was the cover athlete. My brother and I played the crap out of that game. (This year was the first time that I didn’t buy the NBA 2K game since then.) Our family had split up and our family home was sold, so we were living together in an apartment. It was actually a great time.

I decided that being young and thrown out into the world, we should check out this internet thing. I finally had a way of checking basketball scores and watching highlights. I brought a custom Bulls jersey from the NBA store (which I still have to this day) and eventually discovered league pass. I haven’t missed a Bulls game since. I’m talking regular season, playoffs, pre-season and even Summer League. I’ve seen them all. The point is, basketball was back in my life, this time for good.

I’m getting a tad ahead of myself though. Before league pass, I got to know the Bulls through the video games for a couple of years. It’s how I came to love some of my favourite players. Kirk Hinrich was my hero, but I also loved Luol Deng, Thabo Sefolosha and obviously Ben Gordon. There was absolute spud I hated though – Joakim Noah. What was with the way this idiot shot the basketball? Why did his midrange game suck so much? How come he can’t hit jumpers? (I never said I was an intelligent NBA fan, just a passionate one). I benched that clown and barely ever used him. If the computer called a timeout to sub him in, I would manually call one and sub him out.

Then I got League Pass and I watched Joakim play. My god, was I wrong about him! What a talent. But more than that, what heart this guy would show. The passion in which he played the game. He was the heart, hustle and muscle of the Bulls. I fucking loved him. Everything about him. The hair, the awkward shot, the finger guns. What a legend. I got a Joakim Noah shirt, jersey, bobble head and poster. Action figures and more jerseys followed. I loved this man. As much as I loved Kirk Hinrich.

Noah was everything I wanted to be. When I started playing again, I modelled my game after his. I would leave everything on the court. I didn’t care if we were down 30 or up 40. If there was a loose ball, I was diving into the chairs to get it. I wanted to be just like Jo.

I loved him so much and it cemented my love of the Chicago Bulls. When I think of the Chicago Bulls, I don’t think of Michael Jordan and the 90’s. My heart always goes to Joakim Noah and the decade starting around the mid 2000’s. Jo. Derrick. Hinrich. Gordon. Taj. Deng. Boozer. Brewer. Watson. Scal. Korver. Jimmy. Thibs. Everyone who came through the city and pulled on that jersey.

Joakim set the blueprint for what Chicago basketball meant. Maybe it wasn’t the prettiest thing in the world, but it would never, EVER be out worked by anyone. Nobody wanted to play that team because they knew that nothing would come easy. I fucking love those guys so much.

He didn’t just set the blueprint for playing hard though. He went on to hone his skills and become one of the top 5 players in the league. Not bad for a total bum! I don’t think that Noah gets the credit he deserves. People look at players like Jokic with wonder. This incredible centre, a passing big man, a reliable free throw shooter, a decent jump shot and a hell of a defender. Noah was the blueprint for the modern NBA centre. People have just forgotten.

It broke my heart when the organisation (and some of the city) gave up on them. I never did. Every single time one of them was traded, it broke another piece of my heart. It didn’t matter to me if they never won a title. They left everything on that court and they did it for us. That’s all I ever wanted. I know that Jo felt the same. After Lu was traded, Jo said how hard it was to be without his brother. I felt the exact same way every single time. Rose, Noah, Lu, Jimmy. All of them.

I don’t know if I will ever love a group as much as I loved that one. Up until this season, I haven’t enjoyed the Bulls as much as I did back then.

For years, I planned on naming my firstborn son Joakim. I figured I would have a better chance of convincing a partner of Joakim instead of Kirk. I ended up having a daughter first anyway and decided on Chicago. Her middle name is Rose, after Derrick, obviously. Joakim is still on the table. So is Kirk. I don’t care what my wife says.

Anyway, today the Bulls played the Knicks. It was Joakim Noah’s appreciation night. It was great to see him and all of my old favourites in the United Centre once more. I just wanted to write this to thank them all for everything they did for me. They have no idea who I am, but they meant the damn world to me. They still do. They always will. I just wanted to write this to says thanks. Not just to Jo, but to all of the gang. I miss you all and I hope you have a great retirement, Joakim.

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