A humbled Joakim Noah understands that the drug suspension compromised his ability to lead in the locker room. But as the Knicks transition into a rebuild focused on teammates 10 years younger, Noah also understands it’s imperative to re-establish that role as a positive veteran influence — since even he seems uncertain about how much he’ll get to play.
“I have an unbelievable opportunity, throughout all this s—, I can go out there, and no matter what my role is, I can hold my head up high and do my job. Do my job like my man,” Noah said in a wide-ranging interview with the “Truth Barrel” podcast, which was hosted by family friend Gabrielle Reece. “It’s through adversity that you can really show what you’re made of. That may not be enough for a Knicks fan, because I’m making a lot of money.
“But it’s not about the Knicks fan, it’s about me, about me being comfortable. I can’t say last year I was happy with the way s— went down. I wasn’t. I left there, head down, hurt, it was rough. But if I can, at the end of next year, be like, ‘you know what, I bust my ass this year and no matter what my role is, I was a good influence in the locker room. Because to me that was the hardest thing when all that s— happened, when I got caught with the PEDs.”
In a Knicks season defined by failures, Noah was probably the most disappointing after signing a four-year, $ 72 million deal. He was ineffective, injured and ultimately suspended 20 games for ingesting a banned substance.
In the cathartic podcast interview, he cited lost confidence as the main culprit for his struggles. Noah also called it the toughest season of his career — “100 percent.”
“I couldn’t move the way I wanted to move. It was tough,” the center, who averaged five points last season, added. “I lost my confidence.”
Noah’s lackluster campaign was part of the reason the Knicks abandoned their win-now ambitions and move to a rebuild, with frontcourt youngsters Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez as focal points. Regardless of his role, Noah can’t play the first 10 games of next season because his drug suspension carries over.
He also had shoulder surgery in April and only returned to playing basketball last week.
“We have some good young players that are coming up, that are good, that are at my position,” Noah said, adding later, “I don’t like the fact that some of these young guys have only seen bulls—. It’s really important when you come into the league to have good vets. So that’s what bothers me — I always took pride in that in being a good vet and a good role model. And when your veteran gets caught taking PEDs, that’s not a good look at all. Right now in New York there was a lot of bulls— and it’s up to us to build a culture. So no matter what my role is, I want to be a mentor for these younger players.”
Noah acknowledged his error for not consulting team doctors about his supplement intake. And for the first time, he hinted that pressure to play better contributed to accidentally ingesting the banned substance — selective androgen receptor modulator LGD-4033 — which is known to have properties similar to anabolic steroids.
Noah was busted while recovering from knee surgery.
“I was feeling the heat. I wasn’t moving right,” Noah said. “I wasn’t playing up to my standard, not just what people expected, but for myself. Injuries suck. At the end of the day, I’m okay with myself I’m okay with myself because I know why I did it. I know I did it because I wanted to be there for the squad and I wanted to be better and I wanted to be alright. I was hurt. So it’s definitely a hell of a learning experience, definitely an uppercut to the face.”
Although Noah said the banned substance didn’t work, the two-time All-Star indicated he experienced physical withdrawal.
“The hardest part was coming off the s—,” he said. “Because it was like my body was hurting.”
Not surprisingly, Noah defended Phil Jackson and shared blame for the Zen Master’s firing. Even before Jackson made the center his most expensive free agent signing since Carmelo Anthony, the pair had developed a relationship after Noah made an unannounced visit to Jackson’s lakehouse one summer.
There was always mutual respect.
“It’s tough because I got a lot of love and respect for Phil. He gave me an opportunity to play and come back home. Somebody who read all his books as a kid. I was a big fan and still am. It just didn’t work out,” Noah said. “It sucks. It’s something I have to live with. He believed in me and I kind of let him down. That’s frustrated because he got a lot of blame like it was his fault. It wasn’t just his fault. I didn’t play well. There were a lot of factors. We didn’t lose those games because of Phil Jackson.”
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