One City, One Love: Joakim Noah’s New League Aims to Unify City

When the Chicago Bulls drafted Joakim Noah with the 9th pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, they knew they would be getting a winner.

Noah was a major piece of the Florida Gators team that captured back-to-back National Championships in 2006 and 2007.

His passion, commitment to defense and overall leadership would capture the hearts of Chicagoans, forever cementing his place as one of the Bulls’ all-time greats. However, Noah not only looked to impact games but also for ways to impact the community through violence prevention.

Noah is now collaborating with 28 violence prevention groups to launch the “One City Basketball League” starting this month and concluding in August. The league held a media day at the United Center this past weekend.

The league will consist of players between the ages of 16 to 25, with the goal to reach 280 people from the West and Southside communities.

There will be seven games between 14 teams in different divisions every Saturday. In addition, teams will play games at two separate sites. The league champions equitable access to sports, with one site on the Westside and another on the city’s Southside.

One of the unique aspects of the One City Basketball League is that all 56 coaches and 14 coordinators are trauma-informed experts in conflict resolution. This collective of leaders is on the front lines in the community every day. One city will look to provide off-court programs, financial incentives, and job opportunities to league participants. Attendees will also receive weekly essentials such as hygiene kits and school supplies.

During his time with the Bulls, Joakim embodied the characteristics of a team player. He credits the birth of the One City Basketball League to his relationship with longtime friend Cobe Williams.

Williams, featured in Alex Kotlowitz’s documentary “The Interrupters,” caught the attention of Noah after he watched the film and later tweeted about it. The two connected and hit the ground running, with Williams serving as a guide and bridge for Joakim to communicate more deeply with the Chicago community.

Willams spoke of a conversation with Noah 10 years ago when the player stated that after basketball, he would work with Williams to do violence prevention work.

Williams became one of the directors of Noah’s Arc Foundation, Joakim’s nonprofit that provides art and sports programs to underserved areas. He can now add “founder” of the One City Basketball League to his record.

Williams believes that “anybody that knows anything about Chicago knows that you have to bring people together. That’s what makes it work.”

Noah feels it’s now his role to bring people together.

With Secretary of State Alex Giannoulias in attendance, he said that today reminded him of media days with the Bulls.

“Now It’s time to execute,” said Noah.

“We have powerful people in the city that came to show support. Having people from all shapes of life in one room, we’re able to have these conversations about trying to unify this city.”

The One City Basketball League’s first games will be held on Saturday, May 20. For more information on the One City Basketball League, visit @onecitybball on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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