What is Joakim Noah’s ethnicity? The basketballer’s African roots

By Chege Karomo — ON Jul 03, 2023
Joakim Noah
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Joakim Noah’s basketball career was punctuated by exhilarating highs and depressing lows. At his peak, Joakim was one of the best defensive players in the NBA, winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2014. Unfortunately, he lacked consistency, struggling with injuries and form throughout his career. Joakim is currently a team ambassador for the Chicago Bulls. 

Joakim Noah was born to a French-Cameroonian father and a Swedish mother

Joakim Noah was born on 25th February 1985 to Yannick Noah, a French-Cameroonian tennis star, and Cecilia Rhode, a Swedish model. 

Yannick, a former world number three, won the French Open two years before Joakim’s birth. Cecilia won the Miss Sweden pageant and was the fourth runner-up at Miss Universe 1978. Joakim was three when the family moved from New York to Paris. A year later, Cecilia and Yannick divorced. 

Joakim told Chicago Magazine that he felt pressured to emulate his father. “I was six or seven years old, and the first reaction was, ‘You know, that’s the son of Yannick Noah,’” Joakim said. “I just felt all these expectations, and I didn’t like the reaction from people. I didn’t feel comfortable playing the game because of that, just because I’m somebody’s son.”

Yannick said he respected his son’s decision to shun tennis, introducing him to basketball. “He loved it immediately,” Yannick said. Yannick pushed Joakim hard on the court. “He used to cry every time,” Yannick said. “I knew that one day he would be able to destroy me, but I wanted to push as long as I could, whether we were going for a jog, playing basketball, or going to a gym.”

Joakim benefited from his dad’s coaching but jumped at the opportunity to move back to New York City with his mother and younger sister. “It was hard at first because I was leaving most of my family behind. But basketball was my dream, so I was all for it,” Joakim said. “I think it gave me my own identity. People no longer wanted to be around me just because of who my father was. I was me for the first time in my life.”

Joakim said he looked up to Dikembe Mutombo, a former NBA center from Congo. Dikembe was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era. “That’s what the original African player does, he blocks shots and he rebounds,” Joakim told ESPN. “African players don’t usually shoot jumpers. We do the dirty work.”

The former Bulls center praised Dikembe for his philanthropy – he built a $29 million hospital in his native Congo – and declared his intention to emulate his idol. Joakim told ESPN:

“I’m an African player. I go back to Africa every year. I have a home there. You know my grandfather lives back there in Cameroon. There are obviously things I want to do, and when it comes to giving back and doing things in Africa, being able to network with Dikembe Mutombo, I don’t think it gets much better than that.”