Noah’s slur just the latest distraction for Bulls

Distractions are surrounding the Chicago Bulls right now, at the
season’s most critical moment.

Before Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Bulls dealt
with questions about an interview where Derrick Rose reportedly
said the NBA has a huge problem with performance-enhancing drugs.
And now, the buildup to Game 4 on Tuesday night has been largely
about Joakim Noah directing an anti-gay slur toward a fan.

Almost lost in that shuffle: The Bulls need to find a way to
slow the Miami Heat – and fast.

And that’s what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said his team is
worried about more than anything.

”I think you’re going to be challenged in every way possible,”
the NBA’s reigning coach of the year said Monday, after the team
held meetings at its posh downtown Miami hotel. ”I think the
important thing to understand is that if you have done everything
possible to prepare yourself, that’s all you have to worry about.
You shouldn’t feel pressure if you’ve done that.”

The Bulls are challenged right now in ways they couldn’t have
seen coming.

The story where Rose was said to have told ESPN the Magazine his
alleged thoughts about drug matters – he denied saying what the
magazine attributed to him – lost buzz quickly, especially after
Noah got into some verbal jousting with a fan after taking a seat
on the Chicago bench during the midpoint of the first quarter on
Sunday night.

Television cameras caught Noah using a profanity, then the slur.
The NBA fined Noah $50,000 on Monday ”for using a derogatory and
offensive term from the bench.”

”The fan said something that was disrespectful towards me,”
Noah said, about five hours before the fine was announced. ”And I
went back at him. Got it on camera. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s
feelings. Anybody who knows me knows that I’m not like that. I’m an
open-minded guy. I said the wrong thing and I’m going to pay the
consequences – deal with the consequences – like a man. I don’t
want to be a distraction to the team right now.”

So for a change, it’s not the Heat under the microscope.

They practiced as usual Monday, not having to deal with any
sniff of controversy. Wins in the last two games have given Miami
the upper hand in the East finals, and another victory on Tuesday
night in Game 4 would move the Heat maybe just 48 minutes away from
a trip to play for the NBA championship.

”All we’ve done to this point is do exactly what they did at
home,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Monday as practice wound
down. ”They won the first game at home and we have to find a way
in a possession game to come out ahead again tomorrow night. There
is not going to be one easy possession in this series.”

For Noah, there may not be any easy moments of any sort on
Tuesday, when he faces Heat fans again.

Noah and NBA officials met Monday morning. Noah said he emerged
from that talk prepared to ”pay the price” for what happened.
That price turned out to be 1.6 percent of his roughly $3.1 million
salary this season. Noah agreed to an extension last year, worth
about $60 million through the 2015-16 season.

”I’ll remember,” Noah said. ”I’ll remember it for a long
time.”

Meanwhile, at least two major advocacy groups quickly called
upon the league to both sanction Noah and help further educate
players on the topic.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD,
said it reached out to the NBA and the Bulls on Monday ”to discuss
next steps,” and called upon the league to reiterate to its
players that anti-gay words should not be tolerated in the
game.

”Last month the NBA sent an important message about how such
slurs fuel a climate of intolerance and are unacceptable,” GLAAD
President Jarrett Barrios said in a statement. ”These anti-gay
remarks, coming so soon after, demonstrate how much needs to be
done.”

GLAAD said it has started a partnership with Bryant and the
Lakers following the April incident in Los Angeles. Also Monday,
the Human Rights Campaign called Noah’s use of the slur ”just
plain unacceptable.”

”At a time when the NBA and a growing number of pro-athletes
are publicly standing up for equality, it’s too bad Mr. Noah worked
against their efforts last night,” HRC President Joe Solmonese
said. ”That said, we’re pleased he quickly realized the error of
his ways and apologized.”

Some of Noah’s teammates stood up for him Monday, saying that
the fan went too far in whatever comments were directed toward the
Bulls’ bench. Taj Gibson said the man repeatedly directed verbal
abuse toward the Bulls, and other players insisted that was
true.

”It wasn’t just one time or two times,” said Bulls forward
Luol Deng, who declined to say what comments the fan may have made.
”He just kept going and it became really annoying. He just lost
his temper.”

Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said he was not aware of exactly
what took place in the bench area, but noted it happens somewhat
regularly.

”That’s a part of the game,” Boozer said. ”Fans have the
right to say what they want to say after they buy their tickets.
Unfortunately sometimes, for us, we just have to sit there and take
it. Unfortunately, that’s part of sports.”

Thibodeau’s talk with the Bulls on Monday revolved around the
usual topics: Getting better shots, clamping down on defense and
not letting Chris Bosh have another monster game, like the 30-point
effort in Game 1 and the 34-point showing in Game 3.

He also stressed how Chicago must control its emotions.

”I want our guys to be passionate,” Thibodeau said. ”But I
also want them to be under control. So it’s a tough environment,
and whatever the circumstances are, I don’t want them distracted
with any of that stuff. I want them concentrating on the
game.”

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