(CBS) The heart and soul of the Bulls for nearly a decade, Joakim Noah called his nine years in Chicago the “best times of my life” in a farewell letter than he wrote and provided to the Chicago Tribune.

Likewise, the Bulls were just as appreciative of his efforts on the court and off it, with the organizational brass releasing statement Friday thanking him.

“You cannot measure the impact Joakim made on our team and the city of Chicago over the last nine years,” Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. “His concern, commitment and compassion were always on display. He is loved by all in our organization and he will always be a Bull. We want to thank Joakim for his countless contributions to our organization and the city of Chicago, both on and off the court, and we wish him nothing but the best as he begins a new chapter.”

Noah’s signing with the Knicks to a four-year deal has now become official after he spent his first nine years with the Bulls. General manager Gar Forman called it one of the “tough decisions” in the business to let a player like Noah go. Noah ranks first in franchise history in offensive rebounds, fourth in total rebounds and third in blocks.

Noah’s foundation, called Noah’s Arc, will continue to operate and be active in Chicago even with his exit. It promotes art and anti-violence initiatives.

It was Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson who drafted Noah at ninth overall back in 2007 when he was the team’s general manager.

“When we drafted Joakim in 2007, we knew that we were getting a kid with a strong spirit, was a hard worker and was a proven winner,” Paxson said. “What we didn’t know was the impact that he would make on our organization and the city of Chicago. He worked incredibly hard and eventually became the pulse of our team. Joakim has not only meant a lot to our entire organization and our city, but also to me personally. In this day and age in the NBA, it is rare where you come across a player as genuine, compassionate and real as Jo. The time and energy that he and his family put into his Foundation while he was here in Chicago speaks to the type of human being that he is. On behalf of the Chicago Bulls, I want to thank Joakim for everything that he did for us and I wish him the best as he moves on.”

Below is Noah’s farewell letter, provided to the Tribune:

Thank you, Chicago!!

I moved here nine years ago and quickly got an understanding of what the city was about. Hard work. No nonsense. Grind. Loyalty. Passion. I wanted to represent those qualities every time I stepped onto the court and competed for the Bulls.

Thank you to every teammate I battled with. We won and we lost, but I have love and respect for every single one of you. One day this basketball journey will be over and all we will have are memories. The best times in my life took place on the United Center floor. You are all my brothers.

The relationships I made in Chicago go far beyond basketball, and to me that is just as big as winning the championship. I wish the people in Chicago nothing but the best and I hope we can all continue to be united in bringing some peace to the city. The work to bring people together and build positivity throughout the neighborhood will continue through my foundation and many other great foundations throughout the city that my family and I will stay involved with.

I will continue to do my best to help this city. Chicago is home for the rest of my life, and my dream is still to help make the city a safer place for kids to grow up in.

My journey now brings me home to New York and the team I grew up rooting for as a kid. But nothing has mattered more to me over the past nine years than the city of Chicago, the Chicago Bulls and all of the passionate Bulls fans. There are way too many people to thank individually, but I want to give special thanks to the Reinsdorf family for making me a part of the Chicago Bulls family and everything that that represents.

One love,

Joakim Noah :)