Joakim Noah's words resonate with Bulls fans

While some say team should try to lose its way into lottery, center says that would be insult to hardworking supporters

Taj Gibson talks about the Bulls first loss in five games.

Up in Section 310 of the United Center, garbage man Brandon Keymon capped what he called the perfect day off with his son by watching the Bulls lose 102-88 to the Wizards from seats that cost $44.

Keymon made the trip Monday night from Braidwood, about 10 miles south of Joliet, with a group of friends that included truck driver Chaz Mazzacavallo. Mazzacavallo underwent knee surgery in the fall and recently overcame a concussion, but going to the game fulfilled a promise to his son.

"We'd been looking forward to this for a long time,'' Mazzacavallo said.

A few sections away, mail carrier Steve Bozacki expressed similar thoughts after bringing his son and two friends from their home in northwest Indiana for an occasion they considered special. Asked what he thought about the Bulls potentially losing games to get into the NBA draft lottery, the guy who works rain or shine through sleet and snow answered predictably.

"That wouldn't fly with me,'' Bozacki said as he looked down at the Bulls warming up.

These were the type of engaged, anonymous fans Bulls center Joakim Noah referred to last weekend when he finally broke his silence over the Luol Deng trade, the regular people Noah believes he owes an honest day's work every night.

"When I look at the top of the arena, and I see the guy who looks this big and he's up cheering up and down, that's the guy I play for,'' Noah said. "To me, that's what this city represents. There's a lot of hardship in here, a lot of adversity in this city, and I feel like when I play basketball, I want people to be proud of their team."

Two weeks into 2014, Chicago sports already had its quote of the year.

Noah's thoughtful, emotional postgame message lasted only a couple of minutes in the locker room, but it should resonate as long as he plays for the Bulls. It connected.

It spoke to you and me, to fans in the 300 level and the guy selling newspapers in the cold whom Noah also referenced, to anyone who ever wondered if players making millions of dollars relate to the folks who pay to watch them. As much as any pro athlete in town, Noah does. An ordinary Jo, he isn't.

"People know when they come and play Chicago, no matter if there's four guys on the court, we're going to go out there and go hard,'' Noah said. "We're going to give it everything we have. And I think that's something that people are proud of when you say, 'Chicago Bulls.' You know you're in for a fight. I'm proud to be a part of that. It's always going to be like that."

Indeed it is, even after the Bulls traded Deng, whom Noah called his "brother,'' for financial reasons. Even after losing Derrick Rose to a knee injury for the second straight season. Even with coach Tom Thibodeau making his objections to the Deng trade obvious.

The faces change but the focus doesn't. The less the Bulls have, the more they battle. Drama often induces desperation. Anybody thinking the Bulls won't make the playoffs without unloading another veteran hasn't watched the Eastern Conference. And how could Bulls executives Gar Forman or John Paxson look Noah in the eye if they did make another deal that clearly signaled an attempt to get into the lottery?

"We're just going to give it everything we've got — there's no tanking,'' Noah said. "When people in Chicago say, 'Chicago Bulls,' I want (them) to be proud of that. Even if there's four guys hurt, no matter who's out, we're going to give 150 percent, win or lose. I know people in this city are proud of that."

Or they should be. We love to criticize baseball players in this city for not running out ground balls or football players for making half-hearted attempts to tackle. Yet a buzz continues to build suggesting the Bulls should do everything in their power to lose games for a small chance at a great player who comes with no guarantees? Thanks, but no tanks.

The Bulls owe it to everybody who values competition to play every game to win — most of all to themselves. They can rebuild without relinquishing their right to compete. They need to conduct business as usual.

"Playing hard, playing smart, playing together,'' Thibodeau said.

Thibodeau can help by calling a truce with Paxson and Forman. By ending any silly rumors about coaching the Knicks next year by confirming, in no uncertain terms, that he will return. By doing his job, no matter who comes or goes.

The people of Chicago who matter to Noah deserve the Bulls' best shot. And, refreshingly, that's everyone.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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