In conversation with Joakim Noah, Former NBA All-Star and Global Ambassador, Hennessy In The Paint

A thousand and one things go into building a legacy business, and no one understands this better than Hennessy. Their recent unveiling of a basketball court in Lagos in collaboration with former NBA all-star, Joakim Noah, as part of their In The Paint initiative, comes as no surprise.

Hennessy launched In The Paint back in 2021 to foster community development through a blend of art and sports. So far, seven courts have been unveiled and are in use all over the world from Nigeria to Ghana, Tanzania to South Africa, Barbados, Mexico and Hong Kong. By bringing Joakim Noah on board, Hennessy hopes to move from just building physical structures that local communities can enjoy, but establishing programmes that would also elevate and empower its members.

Joakim Noah on the Hennessy In the Paint court
Former pro basketball star, Joakim Noah, has teamed up with Hennessy for its In The Paint Initiative. Image courtesy of Hennessy

Noah is no stranger to sports and arts. The former basketball star who is renowned for his grit and tenacity on the court, as well as his contribution towards his teams’ successes has been busy since his retirement in 2021. His personal project, the Noah’s Arc Foundation (which he co-founded with his mother, artist Cécilia Rodhe) combines arts and sports to help people living in underserved areas discover who they really are outside of the physical realities they live and deal with. He is also heavily involved in other initiatives like the One City Basketball League in Chicago, the Basketball Africa League, and, the NBA.

This October, Joakim Noah came to Lagos, Nigeria to launch the latest Hennessy In The Paint basketball court located in VGC Lagos. We sat down with him to talk about his life and pursuits and find out more about this new initiative.

In conversation with Joakim Noah begins now …

ALM: You come from a strong professional athletic family. Did this in any way pressure you into sports?

JN: I don’t think it pressured me into sports. I think sports is what I’ve always wanted; basketball is what I’ve wanted. And I was blessed to see … at a young age, I was able to see my father train. And you know, just being in that kind of environment, it definitely shaped me. So I knew what it takes, the sacrifices it takes to become a professional athlete. And it’s not easy.

So I’m happy that, even though that part of my life is over now, it’s [now] about mentoring and partnering with the right people and building infrastructure.

ALM: What has been the downside of coming from such a strong, athletic background?

JN: Downside? No! I am living out my dream. Ever since I was a kid, my goal was to become a professional basketball player and I was able to do that. Now, it’s about transforming my experience into inspiring the youth, and, being able to partner with initiatives like In The Paint and Hennessy and big platforms like this only make the work easier because they are building the right infrastructure for these kids.

Joakim Noah with youths at the Hennessy in the paint programme
Now, it is all about transforming my experiences into the youths – Joakim Noah. Image courtesy of Hennessy

ALM: With the type of work you’ve been doing with different brands (the NBA and BAL (Basketball Africa League) to develop basketball as a sport, what has been the greatest achievement(s) for you so far?

JN: The biggest achievement has definitely been investing in the NBA African League … because a lot of these initiatives, especially when I was younger, as a player [did not exist and] I was alone. And you know, that’s always tough. So just connecting with the right people [has been great] but I think, so far the one that I am most proud of is the [court] that we built in Cameroon on my great-grandfather’s land.

So, we built a beautiful court and the team – we have a local team – just made it to division 1 last week. Being able to partner with these initiatives like In the Paint is only going to make it better. We’re just trying to grow basketball in the continent as much as possible and all around the world.

ALM: What is it about sports (basketball) that keeps you coming back? How important, in your own perspective, is sports in character and career development?

JN: Well, I think that basketball gave me the opportunity to live out my dream, so I think that these are things that kids can really explore on the continent. I think we’re still in the early stages when it comes to basketball. So the more we can highlight basketball and put the light on basketball, the more the kids will be inspired. And the more we grow the game, the more opportunities will come for people on the continent. I think that’s what it’s all about.

ALM: So apart from the opportunities, how do you think basketball can help with career development and personal improvement on the continent for our people? 

JN: I think that basketball is not only about becoming a professional basketball player. It’s the whole ecosystem around it that you can learn from. The values from the game are so important. The team building — you know, when you’re working for a company, you’re not going to be alone, it’s not just going to be your thoughts. So, it’s about teaching people how to work together, so I think that using sports to build communities makes so much sense because it’s the ultimate unifier. When I think of the top unifiers, I think of music and I think of sports. So, not everybody is going to be a musician, not everybody is going to be an artist, not everybody is going to be a top basketball player, but the values you can get from it can help you in the next endeavour.

In the paint wants to empower communities through basketball
Basketball is the ultimate unifier. Image courtesy of Hennesy

ALM: Now that you’ve put it this way, with the basketball team you’re building in Cameroon, what are the things you’ve seen that make you think, ‘this was a good thing to do?’

JN: Well, I just see the growth; I see the talent is growing. I see it’s going to be the year for the NBA Africa league, so I see the top players playing on the continent, on government investment. I see government investment in different countries: Congo is building stadiums; Rwanda just built a beautiful stadium, Senegal – the NBAs just made a big investment with the academies. Our goal is to build an academy in Cameroon.

So I just see basketball really growing on the continent. Not only can we bring the people together through basketball, but I think that we can also add workshops and really localise some of the things to make the communities better. I think a great way to do it is to bring the youths into sports initiatives.

ALM: Sometimes we focus too much on the players, forgetting that there is an entire ecosystem: you have the referees, you have the coaches, you have the physiotherapists and all of that. What are the plans for people like that to come and support the court and actual players?

JN: Well, I’ll give you an example. There is a kid in Cameroon who really had the ambition and dreams to play in the NBA. So he was posting videos of him playing basketball. And he would go viral all the time because of the structures which were very limited. And he was doing whatever it takes. We were able to use him as an influencer in the BAL and utilise his platform to kinda help grow the sport [locally].

So I think what is beautiful is the relationships that you build during these community events, and then you can incentivise the kids as well: OK you guys come in, this is more than just a basketball tournament. We are not here to find an NBA player. This is about building and coming together, having a good time, and seeing what kinds of relationships you can make out of it.

ALM: What was the one principle you applied while playing professionally that you can say contributed greatly to your success?

JN: I think a line I always go with is, “Humble yourself or the game will humble you” because a lot of the time, people come and think they’re the best because they’re the best in their region but you’re always going to find somebody who is better than you. You’re always going to be in a position where somebody might dunk on you and embarrass you on the court. But you have to move back quickly. So it’s important to have a humble soul and just live in the moment.

Joakim Noah on the Hennessy court in lagos
Humble yourself, because you are always going to find somebody who is better than you. Image courtesy of Hennessy

ALM: So what is one special moment you look back and think, “I’m glad that I did that?”

JN: Well, I was just saying that when I built my court in Cameroon this is something that took a long time, that was not easy, you know, just bringing all the resources from America and bringing it to Cameroon and getting that kind of access was very hard. But, when it got done, to be able to go home – see, the court is near my grandmother’s school that she had built 65 years ago, still going on today – it’s something I’m very proud of. This is my responsibility. I was able to build a court, my father was able to build a tennis court, and my grandmother built a school … this is all part of our roots and our tradition.

ALM: What is it about the In the Paint and all these collaborations that made you think it is a good fit for you?

JN: I think that this initiative with In the Paint and Hennessy makes a lot of sense to me. Art and sports are the main things about my foundation. So I think this initiative makes a lot of sense because I see them using local artists to build the courts, and expression is something that is very important for us. So I just think this partnership came very organically. I’m really excited to go to the court today and feel it out and see the vibes and then we go from there because at the end of the day, I work with the NBA and to have a partnership like this that focuses on sports and arts. It was just a no-brainer.

ALM: Are you an artist in any way? Do you draw, do you paint? Do you sculpt?

JN: My mother is an artist. My initiatives were a lot in the city of Chicago, so my mum does sculptures with the kids; it’s art therapy. And I understand how therapeutic sports and arts can be. I really believe in these core values, and I think that’s why I’m here.

ALM: What is the toughest challenge you faced in your basketball career? How did you overcome it?

JN: Honestly, there were a lot of highs, and there were a lot of lows. It was a career that I wouldn’t trade for anything — you know, I played at the highest level against Lebron James and Giannis and all these great players. I also played with the youngest MVP, Derrick Rose, playing for one of the most prestigious teams in the world, the Chicago Bulls, but it wasn’t easy. There were suspensions and some tough moments: losing is hard sometimes. You know, I was a very emotional player and it’s tough. While I was playing, I didn’t sleep well throughout my whole career. I sleep a lot better now!

ALM: What do you think would be a natural progression on the continent now with what Hennessy is doing?

JN: I think the progression is happening. Infrastructure is very important; they’re building sustainable models where we can follow up and make sure the kids are getting the right coaching. I think that that’s something that is great. But for me, this is my first day working with Hennessy so I’m not over here trying to say what we should and shouldn’t do. For me, I just want to be here and pay attention and see where I can make myself the most helpful as possible.

The Hennessy basketball court in VGC, Lagos, was designed by Osa Seven. Image courtesy of Hennessy

ALM: Is this your first visit to Nigeria? What has your experience been like so far?

JN: Yes, this is my first visit to Nigeria and I’m really excited to be here. I’ve spent a lot of time in Cameroon and this is the country down below. But when I think of Nigeria, I think of Lagos; I think of Fela Kuti and I really hope we have enough time while I’m here to go check out the shrine.

ALM: What are your 3 favourite cities in Africa and why?

JN: I mean, I’m going to definitely say Yaoundé first because Yaoundé is … that’s my root and my heritage. You know, I kinda have a few spots over there that I know where to go to and see my friends.

I love going to Dakar, I think Dakar is a beautiful, beautiful city. We were also able to bring some kids from Chicago on our last trip over there. We went to Gorée Island and I think that was a really powerful trip for the youths … for them to feel their roots and their heritage even though they’re not sure exactly where. It is definitely empowering so I was very proud of the Dakar trip.

And Kigali. We just came back from Kigali. Kigali is a beautiful, beautiful place, the heart of Africa. We went to see the gorillas as well. You know, a vibrant city, but a little more chill. I think that Nigeria has a lot more action, a much faster tempo but I’m used to it.

And you know, I love Morocco as well. There’s so much to see.

Complete the following sentences

If it wasn’t basketball … I think I would have enjoyed coaching or being a part of working in a community centre with kids. I love working with kids.

I cannot go into a meeting without … talking points!

I cannot leave home without … my debit card.

My favourite thing in the world to do is … to chill on the beach.


‘In Conversation with’ by ASPIRE Luxury Magazine celebrates stars, influencers, celebrities and public figures, shining a spotlight on their lives and the incredible stories they have to share.

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