Joakim Noah On How His Mom Pushed Him to Be More Than a Basketball Player

NBA star Joakim Noah has a great relationship with his mother – but it wasn’t always that way.

“I put her through a lot,” Noah said about his early days with his mother, sculpture artist, model and 1978’s Miss Sweden, Cécilia Rodhe.

Noah was born in New York City and spent his younger years in Paris with his parents and sister. After his parents divorced, Noah and his mother returned to New York, where she raised him and his sister on her own.

It wasn’t the easiest time for Rodhe and then 13-year-old Noah, who was kicked out of school for behavioral issues.

But the pair has come a long way. Their current collaboration, the Noah’s Arc Foundation, is a charitable foundation they launched together that’s dedicated to helping children develop a stronger sense of self through sports and the arts.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted to be an NBA player, but my mom told me that it has to be more than that,” the Chicago Bulls player said. “I think that’s what the work I’m doing with my mother and the foundation is [all about]. There’s a sense of purpose. I feel like I want to change the mindset in Chicago – violence is such a big part of the culture and I think we can help change [that]. I know that’s a big goal, but if we can even help some kids, [that’s a great contribution].”

As a player for the Chicago Bulls, Noah has achieved his childhood dream, and with his mother’s help, is making even greater strides on a broader vision.

“I feel like my mother taught me about quality of life – she taught me to appreciate little things, things like nature, or things that people might think are strange but are completely normal to me.”

And while being a professional athlete has certainly kept him busy, it’s his mother who keeps him grounded. “Things always move really fast in the NBA – always traveling, always around new people – but my mom gives me stability.”

This article was contributed by author Suzanne Pollak, as part of an interview series featured in her upcoming book about extraordinary men in America, and the mothers who helped shape their paths to success. Pollak is the accomplished author of “The Pat Conroy Cookbook,” “Entertaining for Dummies,” “The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits,” “Etiquette with Recipes,” and is the founder of The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits.

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