Joakim Noah's L'ville Career
Around the Lawrenceville athletic community, Joakim Noah ’04 is one of the more recognizable alumni names. This past week, after 13 years of playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA), Noah quietly retired.
Around the Lawrenceville athletic community, Joakim Noah ’04 is one of the more recognizable alumni names. This past week, after 13 years of playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA), Noah quietly retired. The two time All-Star center most notably played for the Chicago Bulls, where he made the All-NBA First Team and won Defensive Player of the Year in 2014. As a three-year collegiate player for the University of Florida Gators, he thrived, leading the Gators to back-to-back National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) National Championships and setting the record for most blocks in an NCAA Championship game.
Though he played most of his high school basketball at Poly Prep Country Day School, he still needed a year to get the best out of college recruitment. Former Boys Varsity Basketball Head Coach Ronald Kane ’83 P’20 recalled Noah’s first visit at Lawrenceville during a home football game: “I remember looking over my shoulder [across] the football field, and there’s Joakim cheering for Lawrenceville [and] blending right in with the Dog Pound.” And so, in 2003, Joakim Noah joined Lawrenceville for a postgraduate year.
Due to his large hands, Noah never possessed a pretty jumpshot. But what he lacked in shooting, he made up for by finessing rebounds, handling the basketball, catching awkward passes, and finishing with ferocity. Under Kane, he was active whenever he was on the court, but he “was one of those players you don’t have to run a play for.” More than his physical attributes, Noah was a player full of intangibles; he was relentless and full of passion, intensity, and competitive spirit, revving his team and the crowd after a big play. Such attributes remained throughout his NBA career, as Noah would be remembered for grabbing boards, pushing the ball through transition, finishing violently at the rim, and yelling intensely while clenching his fists. Noah loved the game too much not to give it his all. Typically, point guards serve as the spark-plug of the team because they execute the plays and control the pace of the game. However, as Kane explains, “Joakim at 6’10” [held] that leadership quality” which remained true even in his days in Gainesville and Chicago.
The road for Noah and Lawrenceville’s success was not smooth, though. After defeating St. Benedict’s Preparatory School, led by future-NBA player J.R. Smith, in the regular season at home, Kane knew that the two teams would eventually meet again to determine the season. But as their season progressed, some turmoil developed within the Lawrenceville locker room. It seemed as if each player had his own frustrations with the status quo. Heading into the state championship game against St. Benedict’s, Kane was not too optimistic; Smith and company were eying revenge, and Lawrenceville didn’t seem to be on the same page. The night before their final game, Noah and his teammates held a meeting to hash out their problems. “[Some] people talked, some people raised their voices, some people shed some tears. But at the end of it, Joakim stood up and extended his arms and said, ‘If we can play together we can win this game.’” Though Kane lacked confidence leading up to the game, Kane admits, “Joakim made me a believer.” Joakim was ferocious on the court, but when he needed to, he was a gentle giant. Joakim’s leadership led Lawrenceville to a 90-68 victory over St. Benedict’s, claiming the state title in his single season with the school.
Noah would find similar success as his career progressed. He won two national titles with the University of Florida and was a fan favorite while playing for the Chicago Bulls. In the 2013-2014 season, Noah finished fourth in league MVP voting. He ended his years playing for the New York Knicks, Memphis Grizzlies, and Los Angeles Clippers. On the surface, Joakim Noah would be described as ‘unconventional’; throughout his career, Noah styled his luscious long hair in a bun, pushed the ball with two hands when he shot, and his ferocious howl after a play could be heard all around the arena. But perhaps what’s overlooked is Noah’s spirit. From a career spanning from Lawrenceville to Chicago to Los Angeles, Noah gave the game his unrelenting passion.