To understand the impact and influence Tyrone Green had on Joakim Noah, just go back to Noah’s 2007 draft night.
Wearing seersucker, a bow tie and an exuberant smile, Noah, minutes after he shook then-Commissioner David Stern’s hand and walked offstage, ignored a question on live TV to get serious.
“I just want to thank Mr. Green, who has been my mentor,” Noah said that night. “I love you to death, Mr. Green.”
Green, an influential figure in New York youth basketball for 35 years, died unexpectedly last week at 63.
Noah returned to practice Saturday after flying to New York for an excused bereavement leave to spend time with Green’s family. Noah also will attend the Thursday funeral between Games 2 and 3 of the Bulls-Wizards series.
“I am saddened by the passing of Mr. Green, who was like a second father to me,” Noah said in a statement. “I will do my best to respect his life and his family in this time of grief and ask that everyone please do the same. I will miss him very much.”
Green also played important roles in the lives of NBA players Speedy Claxton and Lamar Odom and WNBA star Chamique Holdsclaw. But nobody had a bond with Green like Noah, who has indicated he will be too emotional to answer questions on his loss.
“My dad helped me so much,” Noah said in a 2010 interview in reference to his father, Yannick, the professional tennis player. “And my dad knows what Mr. Green brought to the table. When you see me play, you’re not like, ‘Oh, he’s just a rich tennis kid who grew up in a tennis environment.’ I feel like when I play, I play tough. That’s the New York in me. That’s the street tournaments. And that goes to Mr. Green.”
It can be cliche to call a youth coach a father figure. In this case, it’s not.
Noah first met Green as a gangly teenager when he moved back to New York from France in 1998 after his parents’ amicable divorce. Noah credited Green, who hung the nickname “Sticks” on Noah because of his frail frame, for toughening him up.
“Mr. Green showed me tough love,” Noah said in the 2010 interview. “I never actually started once for Mr. Green in his tournaments. I think that was good because I grew up in France as a privileged kid. I would go on summer vacations visiting family all over the world.
“When I met Mr. Green, he was like, ‘If you want to take this basketball thing seriously, you can’t do that anymore.’ You have to get better in the summertime. So come and live with me.”
So Noah did as his father played professional tennis in France and his mother and sister continued their international travel. Even a decade-plus after meeting him, Noah refused to call his mentor by his first name.
“I’d stay with Mr. Green in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, which opened my eyes because I wasn’t used to being around poverty,” Noah said in the 2010 interview. “It made me tougher.”
Green is the one who would take Noah to the prestigious ABCD Camp in New Jersey as a ball boy, which Noah said angered him to want to improve. In a 2010 interview with the Tribune, Yannick Noah also called Green his son’s ”mentor“ and cited him as the first to recognize Joakim’s basketball talent.
”He loves Joakim like a son,“ Yannick said in 2010. ”I’m glad they’ve always kept this special bond. It’s a real relationship.“
The Noah and Green families grew close. Joakim Noah spent considerable time with Green as he lost his wife to illness a few years back. Noah flew Green to Houston for his first All-Star appearance in 2013.
”Nobody believed me, but I always said Joakim would be an All-Star,“ Green said then.
He was right.