HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We better not hear another disparaging remark about the NBA’s current big man crop and how they haven’t masted the art of playing the position the way their elders did. Not one more cross word.
From Dwight Howard to Andrew Bynum to Amar’e Stoudemire and now, Joakim Noah, they have all found their way to one of the all-time greats for outside training on the art of mastering the low post.
Hakeem Olajuwon has tutored many of the current game’s big men, and others as well. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar worked with Bynum early in his career, is in the midst of developing a relationship with new Lakers big man Howard and taught the master class that Noah attended this summer in Los Angeles.
It was a two-week crash course, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, and one that included not just on-court skill work but also some tips on how best to prepare yourself for the rigors of the life in the NBA and beyond.
The best part of the Abdul-Jabbar-Noah pairing is the fact that these kindred spirits, both men have no problems straying from the conformist’s path and doing their own thing, connected immediately:
“It was very humbling,” Noah said. “I feel a lot more polished offensively. Just because I worked with Kareem doesn’t mean I’m going to be throwing in sky hooks from everywhere. But I learned a lot from him.”
This knowledge extended off the court. Noah said Abdul-Jabbar shared pointers on yoga for offseason preparation and community service.
“He’s a very interesting guy,” Noah said.
This experience couldn’t take place until Noah’s gruesomely sprained left ankle fully healed. Despite warming up before the season-ending Game 6 of the Bulls-76ers playoff series, Noah admitted he had no chance of playing because he didn’t feel 100 percent until “about a month ago.” He added that “ankle rehab is something I think I will have to do the rest of my career.”
This justified his painful decision to skip France’s participation in the London Olympics.
“We had to fight really hard just to get into the Olympics (at the 2011 European Championships), so I know the country was really proud,” Noah said. “To have to sit out was very disappointing. But I knew it was the right decision.”
There are very few justifiable circumstances for choosing self over country when it comes to Olympic competition. But Noah did the right thing.
The fact that Noah will have to do rehabilitation work on his ankle for the rest of his career is proof that there was no need to risk further damage in the Olympics. If you’re going to miss out on that opportunity, you might as well cash in with a summer spent learning from one of the men who helped define the art of big man play.
Noah admitted that Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook is “still nice,” even at 65.
Learning a few tricks of the trade from Abdul-Jabbar, even if it was just by osmosis, is time well spent.