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 five years old,” Noah said Friday as the Knicks introduced him, Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings at an afternoon news conference.
The Knicks made Noah their No. 1 target in free agency and brought him home officially Friday as he signed a four-year $72 million deal.
Noah is a throwback type of player, not interested in the spotlight or scoring. He does the dirty work, the stuff it takes to win. Noah did it for the Bulls and now he said 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 not only be the Knicks’ man in the middle. He’ll be a force the locker room, too.
“This means everything to me. I’m going to do everything to make this special.”
Team president Phil Jackson wouldn’t say the Knicks are a playoff team Friday but said they have “a little more competitive power” and hope they can “challenge in this Eastern Conference.”
But the Knicks, who haven’t reached the playoffs the past three years, will be more than competitive if their key players can stay healthy.
The overhauled Knicks have an impressive starting five of Derrick Rose, Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Noah. Jennings and Lance Thomas are the top players off the bench.
“We like this team,” Jackson said.
Lee, however, didn’t hold back in saying how good the Knicks could be once they mesh and develop chemistry.
“I think we can be very scary as far competing in the East,” Lee 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 acquired his former Bulls teammate Rose two weeks ago. But it seems Jackson and Noah were destined to work together.
Noah said he used to read Jackson’s books when he was younger, and 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 and showing the fire and team-first attitude and approach that made him an All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year.
When he was asked what his role would be with the Knicks, Noah said, “Whatever the [expletive] I got to do.”
Noah, who had knee surgery in 2014 and shoulder surgery this year, said he also understands concerns about his recent injury history. Noah played just 29 games last season. He hopes he can stay healthy because it hurts him more not to play.
“Trust me,” Noah 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 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,” Jackson 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.”
Comings and goings
The Knicks also announced that they re-signed Lance Thomas, and inked Willy Hernangomez and Marshall Plumlee. Derrick Williams on Friday tweeted that he was headed to the Heat.