Q+A: Joakim Noah

by February 16, 2014

by Ryne Nelson / @slaman10


Joakim Noah loves the city of New Orleans.

Some reasons are obvious: Noah enjoys partying and great music—two of the Crescent City’s hallmarks. But perhaps most of all, Joakim Noah feels at home in the city that honors its rich multicultural heritage.

As the son of Yannick Noah—former tennis great and Grammy-nominated recording artist of Cameroonian and French decent—and Cecilia Rodhe—a former Miss Sweden and Miss Universe contestant who became a sculptor—Joakim had a childhood that was anything but normal. He lived just outside Paris until he was 13, and then moved to Hells Kitchen in Manhattan with his mother.

In New York, Noah spent his summers living in the projects with with his former coach and mentor Tyrone Green and watched as fame tragically took over the life of his former AAU teammate Lenny Cooke. At the University of Florida, Noah won back-to-back National Championships, an extremely rare feat in today’s college game.

He’s trained in the offseason with big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton and practiced yoga with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He’s infamously cussed out refs in Sacramento and been given the finger by an angry Heat fan.

Along the way to his second consecutive All-Star appearance, Joakim Noah has lived a life most people can only dream of. And he’s stayed true to himself and his family throughout it all.

SLAM caught up with Noah on Saturday in New Orleans during an appearance at adidas in the Quarter, an exclusive retail store and fan experience created to celebrate All-Star. Have a listen…

SLAM: You’ve spent time in a lot of cities, but New Orleans is different than all of them.

Joakim Noah: I love New Orleans. It’s one of my favorite NBA cities. There’s just a vibe about it. When you touch down here, you can just feel it. You can feel it in the air. Not just the music and the energy, but it’s artsy. And just the mentality of the people. It’s laid back. They get down. They can party over here too.

SLAM: They have a large reggae and Rasta influence here as well.

JN: Yeah, reggae music is a big part of me. I get a lot of influence from reggae music and the Rastafari movement. I think it’s all about your roots and it’s all about your culture and your heritage. And I’m proud of my African heritage. I feel like the message in the music is really inspiring to me. The music might sound a little jolly, but there’s really deep messages in the music. It gives me power, especially when I play.

SLAM: Who are your top-five reggae artists?

JN: One, Bob [Marley], no question. Two, Barrington Levy. Three, I would say Gregory Isaacs. I like the older guys, you know…Four, Yellowman. Five, I’ll go with Sizzla.

SLAM: Many Rasta have dreads. Would you ever consider?

JN: Nah, I’m not a Rasta; I’m not from one group. But it’s an influence. I don’t consider myself any religion, but I feel like I can take a little bit of everything. I can take whatever works for me.

SLAM: You grew up a Knick fan. Do you try to model your game after the toughness of Charles Oakley, Patrick Ewing, Greg Anthony…

JN: Not really. I think everybody’s different. I just know I want to win real bad. As a kid, I just really wanted the Knicks to win. I just love Oak, man. Oak just had the help thing down. You knew no one was going to be tougher than the Knicks. That was a good feeling. It made me a proud fan.

SLAM: Dikembe Mutombo said you’re the next best big man defender. What does that mean to you?

JN: That’s like my uncle. So of course, he’s going to show me love. It’s also Thibs’ guy. I think most of our defensive success comes from Tom Thibodeau’s system. I think I’m a good defender, but I think the system helps us out a lot.