CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Joakim Noah failed on the court in his time with the Knicks and his final practice was marred by having to be held back from a confrontation with his head coach. But Noah blamed his struggles in New York on his life away from basketball.
In an interview on the "Chris Vernon Show" in Memphis, Noah, who signed with the Grizzlies two weeks ago in an attempt to resurrect his career, blamed the nightlife of New York City for his troubles.
“I can look back on it and say I thought I was ready for New York City, and I wasn’t,” said Noah, who signed a four-year, $72-million deal with the Knicks in 2016. “It’s something I have to live with.
“I remember after the first game, I probably had, like, 60 people at my house. I’m lit. I’m too lit to play in New York City. Memphis is perfect for me . . . We were lit in Chicago, but I was young. You recover faster, you know?”
Noah was signed by since-fired team president Phil Jackson after spending his first nine seasons with the Bulls. Though Noah's final years in Chicago were ruined by injuries, Jackson believed he was past the problems. But he was plagued by injuries with the Knicks, playing only 53 games as he battled injuries and then served a 20-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
His time in New York came to an end last season. Noah was rarely used by coach Jeff Hornacek, and after he was pulled from a Jan. 23 game in Golden State after playing only 4:31, the two had to be separated at practice in Denver the next day. He did not play for the Knicks again.
Noah remained under contract until October, when the team waived him, using the stretch provision to decrease the cap hit next season. He then signed with the Grizzlies after working out on his own in California.
“When I got kicked off the team, it was New York fashion week and I was getting a lot of money and I had no direction,” Noah said. “I really had to make a decision of how I wanted to live my life. If I kept going on the direction I was going in and stayed in New York, then I probably wouldn’t be here right now.
“Yeah, partying . . . I’m getting paid millions of dollars and have nothing to do and I’m 32 years old,” Noah said. “And so I really had to really lock in and set a routine for myself and set my training. Because partying and being an athlete don’t go hand-in-hand.”
Noah, who scored 12 points in seven games for the Knicks last season, made his debut with Memphis on Dec. 5 and two days later scored 13 in one game. But the now-33-year-old said on the radio show that he is just happy to be back.
“It happened so fast. From one year, I’m playing 35 minutes per game and then injuries started piling up and I got this crazy deal with the Knicks and then the next thing you know, I’m not playing anymore,” he said. “Get kicked off the team. It was a crazy time, so I wasn’t sure I was going to play again.
“I’ve lost my confidence in a real public way. I failed a drug test, and I had to face New York media. I’ve faced some real [stuff]. I know a lot of people in my position would have said, ‘I don’t need this. I got paid. I’ve given a lot to this game,’ and walked away. I knew that I had more in me, and that’s why when I say I’m happy to be here, I know what I went through. To play in the NBA, it’s a blessing.”