GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Joakim Noah spoke like a New Yorker and about being from New York, and how the Knicks’ teams of the 1990s shaped him into the player he is.
“This has been a dream of mine since I’m 5 years old,” Noah said yesterday as the Knicks introduced him, Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings at a news conference.
The Knicks made Noah their No. 1 target in free agency and officially brought him home as he signed a four-year, $72-million deal.
Noah is a throwback type of player, not interested in the spotlight or scoring. He did the dirty work for the Bulls and now he says he’ll do it for the Knicks.
“I was a fan of a lot of people who wore this jersey: Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Chris Childs, Latrell Sprewell, Marcus Camby, Larry Johnson,” Noah said. “I was in the Garden for all these guys. I was in the Garden when LJ hit the shot. I was in the Garden when Michael Jordan came back and gave us 55.”
Noah, a passionate, no-nonsense player, will patrol not only the paint but the locker room. “This means everything to me,” he said. “I’m going to do everything to make this special.”
Team president Phil Jackson wouldn’t say the Knicks are a playoff team but said they have “a little more competitive power” and hope they can “challenge in this Eastern Conference.”
The overhauled Knicks have an impressive starting five of Noah, Lee, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. “We like this team,” Jackson said.
Lee has high hopes.
“I think we can be very scary as far as competing in the East,” he said. “That’s a strong core group right there. I felt joining this team would only increase my chances of competing in the Eastern Conference and trying to win a ring.”
Noah said he probably wouldn’t have entertained the Knicks if they hadn’t first acquired Rose, his former Bulls teammate. It seems Jackson and Noah were destined to work together, though. Noah said he used to read Jackson’s books when he was younger, and he went to see him in Montana and spent time with him before Jackson became the Knicks’ top executive.
“I knock on his door and we start talking,” Noah said. “He goes, ‘Why are you here?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’ It was a great couple of days. I got an opportunity to meet one of the legends and spend time with him. It was great. Life works in mysterious ways. Now we’re here.”
Noah was intense during his interview, using expletives for emphasis. When he was asked what his role will be with the Knicks, he said, “Whatever the [expletive] I got to do.”
Noah had knee surgery in 2014 and shoulder surgery this past season. He said he understands concerns about his injury history. Noah, who played only 29 games in 2015-16, hopes he can stay healthy because it hurts him more not to play.
“Trust me,” he said, “there’s nothing more I want than to be on the court. It doesn’t matter what anybody writes or anybody says; at the end of the day, nobody cares about this [stuff] more than me. I’m the one putting in the work every day. I’m very passionate about this. I always have been and I always will. This is where I want to end my career until the wheels fall off. I’m scarred up from the game, knees, ankles, shoulders, but this is my path and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
This, and his complete body of work, is what appealed to Jackson. “Joakim Noah has been somebody that’s been on my list for quite a long time,” he said. “I’d like to have this guy as a leader with the defensive attitude that he carries and the teamwork that he likes to promote. So bringing him in as initially the first choice on the free-agent market I think kind of solidified what we want to get accomplished.”
Arrivals, departures. The Knicks also announced that they re-signed Lance Thomas and signed Willy Hernangomez and Marshall Plumlee. Derrick Williams tweeted that he is headed to the Heat.