In 2010, the Chicago Bulls marketing department started running black-and-white commercials with dramatic piano music to showcase their marquee players.
For Joakim Noah, it went something like this: “I was booed a lot. My whole life I’ve been booed. College I was getting booed a lot. Boston, they don’t like me over there.”
At that point, Noah had just come off of two straight postseasons of gutsy play, one in the legendary first-round series against the Celtics, the other against an aging Shaquille O’Neal and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Hungry. Aggressive. Spirited.
With double-digit rebounding potential and unlimited energy, teams around the league coveted Noah. Even with the bizarre, sideways release on his shot (commentator Stacey King calls it the “tornado”), he was good for between 12 and 14 points per night.
But a month into the season, things have changed. Noah has lacked his trademark energy. He has scored fewer tip-ins, practically his only offensive weapon, and at times, has relied almost exclusively on 15-16 foot jump-shots.
Noah, wiry and often out of breath, looks like a player who was caught off guard by the end of the NBA lockout. He is not naturally a physically dominant player like Dwight Howard or Amare Stoudemire. Noah relies a on bulk added in the weigh-room. Without that, he is lost.
In transition, instead of the gallant 7-footer who outran Paul Pierce on the break to seal a playoff victory, Noah looks like a weak-framed big man weighed down the $60-million contract he signed a year ago.
Despite his team’s deep bench, Bulls general manager Gar Forman is constantly reminded of his struggling big man’s contract, which is worth three times Gibson and Asik’s salaries combined.
If the fifth-year center does not pick up his play soon, Bulls fans will be the ones booing.