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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