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2011 NBA Playoffs: Joakim Noah - A Kinder, Gentler Dennis Rodman?

It's hard for Chicago Bulls fans to resist the temptation to compare this year's team with those great Jordan-era squads of the 1990s. After all, the Bulls have made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals only once since then. And these guys have a certain magic that inspires one to hearken back to those halcyon days of MJ and Scottie.

Center Joakim Noah made the comparison a little easier yesterday when he admitted to the Chicago Sun-Times that Dennis Rodman, an alumni of three of those championship Bulls teams, was a childhood idol. Quoth Joakim:

Rodman was my hero when I was growing up. He was one of the greatest rebounders ever. I liked the way he played with passion, got into his opponents' heads and entertained the crowd. I draw a lot of inspiration from him.

As someone who's lived through both eras (we are in an "era," right?), I find it intriguing to compare the two. First and foremost, there's the obvious: They're both guys with big, impossible-to-ignore personalities on the court who rebound a lot. They're also the type of player who you love to cheer for on your team but would likely despise if he played for the opposition.

With Rodman, that last point is virtually indisputable given his notorious role on those late 1980s-early 1990s Detroit Pistons clubs. And Joakim? C'mon, admit it, you'd probably be screaming at your television in anger or at least annoyance if the other team's center was primal screaming after every dunk and pounding his chest as he ran down the court. But, as a Bull, Joakim is the heart and soul of our team and we love it. Nothing wrong with that.

Yet I don't feel Noah has that underlying malevolence that Rodman brought to the hardwood. Even as a Bull, the Worm was still, in many regards, a Piston. He was out to get guys -- whether that be under their skin or in their face. And we didn't mind because it made up for his generally substandard shooting and distracted opponents from a couple of other guys on the court wearing Bulls uniforms. The guy had a dark side. One that got only worse after he left the NBA.

Maybe I'm just seeing things through red-colored glasses, but Joakim Noah isn't like that. He's a kinder, gentler version of Rodman, who brings just as much energy and personality to the court without the "I'll put either you or me in the hospital" mentality.

There's a certain Zen positivity to Noah. He plays for the pure passion of the game and, hey, if things get thick under the rim, he'll throw hands, arms and elbows right along with everyone else. But, back in the clubhouse, that fire fades to light -- not darkness like it did for Rodman. I don't care what Danny Granger of the Indiana Pacers said. Joakim doesn't play dirty; he just plays.