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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