Joakim Noah trusts and protects those in his inner circle who have looked out for him and been loyal throughout the years.
That's why the Chicago Bulls big man speaks in reverential tones when he discusses Billy Donovan, his former coach at the University of Florida. Noah, who won two national titles with Donovan at Florida, considers his former coach a father figure.
Donovan finally made the jump to the NBA before this season, taking over the Oklahoma City Thunder. For the first time in his NBA career, Noah will face Donovan when the Thunder visit the United Center on Thursday to take on the Bulls. It's a matchup he is looking forward to, Noah said:
Nick Friedell: What is it going to be like for you facing Donovan in the NBA?
Joakim Noah: I just know I'm going to want to win really bad. Not because I'm playing against Coach Donovan; I love Coach Donovan, obviously. He's like a father figure to me. Somebody that I've gone through a lot with. My time with him as a coach was the best time of my life, and it was a lot more than just basketball.
Friedell: What do you think you learned most from him?
Noah: I think Coach Donovan is somebody who cares about his players, but really cares about his guys. I know that if something ever happened to me, I know that he would be there for me, and that's a great feeling. I always felt like it was more than basketball with Coach Donovan. He's the best coach that I ever had. I got nothing but love for him. I have nothing bad to say about him. I think that he's somebody who has great balance in his life ... we're very similar in a lot of ways in terms of competitiveness. But very different, as well. I love the guy.
Friedell: I know you talked to him while he was debating on whether to make the jump or not to the NBA. What did you tell him about the league?
Noah: I told him go somewhere where you're going to win. And he found a good spot.
Friedell: Do you find yourself watching the Thunder now at all?
Noah: Yeah, I watched his last game.
Friedell: What did you think of Billy Donovan, the NBA coach, compared to Billy Donovan, the college coach?
Noah: I don't know. I just hear that the guys like him a lot. That's not [a surprise]. I knew that was going to happen. When you got love for your coach like that, you go that much harder. It's just the way it is. I was blessed enough to learn a lot from him in three years, because there's a lot of life lessons in a season; whether it's college or the NBA, you learn a lot about yourself as a man. And to have a leader like that in my life, it was special.
Friedell: When you look over there on Thursday and see him on the sidelines, what do you think you're going to be thinking about?
Noah: I'm hoping I'm not going to be thinking too much. I don't want to think. (Laughs) I don't want to think in the game. We've got other problems -- like Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka and [Russell Westbrook].
Friedell: Would you ever play for Donovan again?
Friedell: Have you thought about it?
Noah: Stop! Stop! Stop!