To say Joakim Noah is multi-cultural is a bit of an understatement. The Bulls center's diverse background has been well documented: his French-African father earned his fame as a tennis star, his mother once reigned as Miss Sweden and his father's father was a soccer player in Cameroon. Arts and sports have long held equal sway in the Noah family.
But it’s reggae, and the roots of the Rastafari movement, that have inspired Noah to broaden his horizons. He was first exposed to the music of Bob Marley as a child. In fact, his parents, Yannick and Cecilia, shared a love of the Jamaican artist. “My house always had Bob Marley music playing in the background," Noah says.
As he grew older, Noah began to appreciate the lyrics of Marley’s songs as much as the melodies, and was motivated to research their meaning. In doing so, he stumbled across the origins of the reggae movement and Rastafarian culture. “A lot of people think of reggae as laid-back and chill, but the words in reggae are very powerful," he says.
Despite his fascination with the Rastafari movement, the soft-spoken, 6’11’ Noah – who holds American, Swedish and French citizenship -- doesn’t consider himself a follower of any one religion. “I’m not a religious person, but I’m a spiritual person," say Noah, whose family members practiced both Islam and Christianity. "I believe in God, but I don’t believe in one specific god. I like to take pieces from everywhere and incorporate them into my life."
“I’m not a Rastafari, but a lot of their philosophy and beliefs make sense to me: being in tune with nature, knowing about your roots, knowing about your heritage, not getting caught up in materialism.” He adds, “I think Rasta teaches you humility.”
It also helps him connect with his roots. Noah’s favorite Marley song is "Africa Unite" and, even though he's never been to Ethiopia or Marley's homeland of Jamaica, he wears an Ethiopian cross adorned with Tibetan beads around his neck to represent Rasta.
"I feel like your jewelry is a big part of you,” Noah says. “I don’t wear diamonds or anything like that, but I wear this every day. This is my peace. When I die, I want to have it on.”
Noah, who is averaging a double-double that includes career highs in points (12.0) and rebounds (11.5) per game this season, also finds peace before games by listening to reggae. "It gives me strength when I play,” says Noah, who also jams to Barrington Levy, Capleton and Sizzla -- and his dad. Now a pop singer in France, Yannick Noah released a Marley tribute album, “Hommage,” last year.
For now, his son is sticking with his day job. Noah says there's no chance of him following in the footsteps of his athlete-turned-singer father. “I can’t sing like that,” he says. “Only in the shower.”