In the Chinese tradition of Taoism, there are eight legendary xian who became immortal by following the way of Tao. Each of the Eight Immortals represents a different facet of humanity and had unique powers — as well as unique paths to immortality. For the 2014 All-Star Profiles, I took a look at the Eight Immortals of the NBA. Joakim Noah is Lan Caihe, healer of wounds and Immortal unlike any other.
Lan Caihe is my favorite of the Immortals, because none of the others are nearly as bizarre as he is. Or she is. Lan Caihe’s gender has always been kind of ambiguous. Either way (and I’m going with she here, since it’s already 6-1 in favor of the guys), she seemed like she just wanted to have a good time. That might have manifested itself in weird ways — sleeping in the snow, literally buried underneath it, during the winter because she was too hot, wearing thermal underwear in the summer — but it was all good-natured. She was a bard by most accounts, and in one particular story, her lyrics would predict the future, though in the vague, unhelpful way that information is always conveyed.
And she and her family were all about the greater good. They sold medicinal herbs to the ill and malnourished, nursing them back to health. One day, Lan Caihe came across an old man covered in sores, homeless and ignored. She brought him into her home and took care of him, only to realize she’d fallen victim to the classic “legendary being masquerading as the downtrodden” gag. The beggar was actually Iron-Crutch Li, who rewarded Lan Caihe with eternal youth.
You know what you do with eternal youth? You wander around the damn countryside in a torn blue robe with one shoe, that’s what you ****ing do! So Lan Caihe wandered. And wandered. And wandered. Sometimes, she’d do her music thing, and others would join her. They’d rock everyone’s socks off, gather a bunch of coins, then let them drop behind them for the poor to pick up. Because you don’t really need money when you have eternal youth, and also — I cannot stress this enough — you wander around the planet with one shoe on.
Joakim Noah’s kind of got the whole one shoe thing going on, too, metaphorically. Noah’s amazing; I wrote his profile last year, in which I used Noah’s prowess to argue against the whole idea that the center position is dead. This year’s been even better than last, with Noah running the offense for prolonged stretches due to the Bulls being more physically damaged than pre-cyborg RoboCop. He’s assisting on 22.6% of Chicago’s field goals when he’s on the floor, per Basketball-Reference, which makes him the third most proficient passer on the team (or second, depending on your views on Kirk Hinrich). No matter what hells the schedule and the fates might throw the Bulls’ way, Noah does his damnedest to navigate them through it all. You can change everything around Joakim and Tom Thibodeau; keep them together and upright, though, and they’ll never stop fighting.
The upright part can be tricky for Noah. He’s been healthy this year, and that’s a huge part of his play. But the foot issues that he’s fought in the past will always linger — if not physically, then in the minds of those who might doubt his longevity. Couple those questions with Thibodeau’s perceived proclivity to run his players into the ground,* and a fair number of people would bristle at the sanity of investing in the one-shoed man.
*Though Noah’s playing just 34 minutes per game this year after a career-high 36.8 last season.
That’s fine. Noah doesn’t care. He’s just gonna keep wandering. Wandering the paint. Wandering the elbows. Wandering over to the bench for postgame interviews.
You wonder. He’ll wander. Keep the shoe.