Dan Barto, who spent six weeks training Joakim Noah for the NBA draft, writes:
As media around the country produce varying reports, I want to go to a famous quote, "There is a fine line between insanity and the most successful mindset one can have." Ali danced around Zaire with the children, and many sports fan were left scathing at Ali's selfish act, not knowing his role, or that he changed the sport and world for the better.
For those of you who have not been paying attention, Joakim Noah has been doing the same for the past two years on the court and off. Antagonizing fans, pounding his chest, screaming after a big play, giving crazy and confusing interviews. Just like Ali, some can not relate or tolerate his actions because they are not willing to put in the work or sacrifice to stand up for something despite what authority might say. Whether it is true or not, just the notion of Joakim challenging Ben Wallace proves the quote above. Nobody wanted to mess with Sonny Liston at one time either.
Worth reading the whole thing, and watching the many videos Barto links.
I am nervous about comparing current NBA stars -- tremendous professionals, but not significant in terms of politics or society (discount shoes and a book of poems as crowning achievements?) -- to anyone who had real impact like Ali.
But I'll tell you what, if you had to pick the current NBA player most likely to matter beyond sports and corporations, I'd hear your case for Etan Thomas. And then I'd pick Noah -- mostly based on meeting him once for 15-minutes. It's just so obvious that his heart and mind are both pumping. He cares about what's important, he's fierce about it, and he has the gift of being widely seen as fascinating.
In the right circumstances, that could make him important.