photo: John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune 

Joakim Noah celebrating The Bulls' 99-93 win over the Nets in Game 7 in Brooklyn.

Gutsy. Fearless. Courageous. Heroic. All adjectives the national talk shows used to describe the Bulls game seven triumph over Brooklyn on Saturday, on the road, with two starters out—a victory that propelled the team into the second round and tonight’s opening game against Miami.

And by all accounts, the player who epitomized that stirring effort—who played through a painfully sore ankle and recurring plantar fasciitis—was the big man in the middle, Joakim Noah.

The will and determination he displayed—pushing in all his chips after the Game 6 loss, guaranteeing the Bulls would win, then backing it up—stand in even starker relief against the backdrop of the continuing Derrick Rose drama. How, many wonder, can the rest of the team put body and soul on the line while Rose, cleared to play by doctors two months ago, and reportedly practicing at full speed, remains mysteriously on the sidelines? Can he not, many are asking, play at least a few minutes? At least try?

Meanwhile, Noah’s performance was the talk of the basketball world and he’s basking in vindication. It may be hard for some to remember, but when he was drafted in the first round, the fans—and many basketball analysts—thought the Bulls had taken a clown with no game (beyond a lot of energy).

But now, it's more clear than ever that Noah is the heart of this team—cementing the premise of a 2010 profile, Joakim Noah's Turnaround—on how he went from, as the cliché goes, that zero to Saturday’s hero.