Joakim Noah at the BAL

Noah reflects on NBA career and being a BAL investor

JOAKIM Noah may have ended his playing career a few years ago, but he is still a recognisable face. The telling moment came when he was swarmed by autograph-seeking youngsters on the opening night of the Basketball Africa League.

Most of the fans who queued up to take photos with Noah and get his autograph were pre-teens. Some wore jerseys of current NBA stars, but they admired Noah, who was in his prime when they were learning to walk.

Noah retired from the NBA in 2021 after his best years, which included two NBA All-Star selections in 2013 and 2014 and the NBA Defensive Player Award in 2014.

In an interview with The Big Tip Off, Noah reflected on his playing career, his work as a BAL investor, the impact of the BAL on Africa’s basketball ecosystem, and the league’s future.

Joakim Noah at the BAL
Joakim Noah had fun at the Special Olympics during the BAL. Pictures: The BAL

Looking back on a playing career spanning over 14 years on the rosters of the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Memphis Grizzlies, and finally, the Los Angeles Clippers, Noah regrets nothing. While he may not have won a championship ring, Noah left it all on the court throughout his career.

“When faced with adversity, how you handle it is where your power lies,” said Noah.

Noah cherishes the moments he spent with his teammates. For him, winning with his teammates and celebrating with them on the bus are the most memorable moments. “For the highlights, just being retired now – all you have left is your friendships and your memories.”

He now finds happiness in his work with the BAL and witnessing the league’s growth. “It is still the beginning, but seeing the growth, being in South Africa, and seeing the fan interaction… ow excited people are about what we are building here, is something special to me,” says Noah. “A day doesn’t go by where I am not talking about NBA Africa and the work that I am doing in the inner city in Chicago. Those are the things bringing me joy.”

Many retired professional athletes are in the media industry. They have pursued careers as broadcasters, and some have opted to become minority owners in American sports teams.

Noah on the other hand decided to invest his time in African basketball. His decision was easy because of the relationship and trust in BAL President Amadou Gallo Fall’s leadership.

“He is somebody that I trust, a humble warrior who cares about the mission of growing basketball on the continent, and when I knew that he was at the head of this – it wasn’t something to question,” says Noah. “I invested and I am very proud of being able to do this on the continent.”

 

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The standard of work that the BAL has carried out in the first four seasons has catalysed growth across the continent. It has prompted more investment in the sport from the grassroots to the senior level.

“You can see the growth of the leagues all around. I think it’s a great step because it motivates the players across the continent. They know that there’s a league represented by the NBA. The level of excitement in the fans is evident. The players get the chance to play on the same courts as those in the NBA. The are top-notch facilities, sound systems, and everything else that makes the BAL a first-class experience,” said Noah.

A key part of the BAL is the Elevate program. It gives NBA Africa Academy prospects a chance to play for the 12 teams during the competition.

“Being around these young men, seeing their growth and them being able to play on the largest stages of our sport is the most beautiful aspect of the BAL,” says Noah. “They know that when they are stepping onto the court, they are more than just a basketball player. They represent the continent and I think they’ve been doing that well.”

Joakim Noah at the BAL
Joakim Noah sharing a moment with pop artist Sho Madjozi.

At present, four Academy players are competing in the Kalahari Conference. Those are; Aginaldo Neto (Petro de Luanda), Mohammed Sylla (FUS da Rabat), Mohamed Camara (Dynamo Basketball Club), and Yakhia Diop (Cape Town Tigers).

“We are proud of all of them and are proud of the work they are putting in. We acknowledge the sacrifices they made as young men, leaving their families – that is not an easy thing. [The BAL] provides an opportunity for them to speak about their journeys, the hard work that goes into being a professional, and they are almost there. They are coming,” says Noah.

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