Gibson returns home to Brooklyn
Brooklyn -- “From Brooklyn…Taj Gibson!”
Being that the Bulls are the road team Friday night at the Barclays Center, it’s unlikely that Gibson, who played his college basketball at USC is introduced in that fashion, the way hometown hero Derrick Rose’s name is announced at the United Center, and certainly not with that level of enthusiasm, if the Nets PA announcer wants to keep his job.
But if Carlos Boozer doesn’t suit up against Brooklyn due to a right hamstring injury, the fourth-year power forward will indeed likely make his debut appearance at the newest NBA arena as a starter and in his hometown, no less.
For Gibson, who grew up in the nearby Fort Greene neighborhood — home to renowned film director and Knicks fan Spike Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule studio — it was something he never expected, even more so than most of his NBA peers.
“I remember it was a construction zone, but there wasn’t any construction going on. It was bad. I always saw drug dealers, I always saw people hustling, just selling used stuff. I never saw a lot of stores. It was a rough area,” Gibson recalled about the Atlantic Yards site where the impressive building now stands. “This is my first time ever being in the building. It’s amazing. I don’t know, it’s kind of one up on [Madison Square] Garden right now.
“When you’re coming off the bridge and you just catch your first glimpse, it looks like a spaceship,” he continued to marvel. “It’s crazy. It’s dark in here. It’s like playing the way the Lakers light their arena. But it’s a crazy atmosphere. Just coming in, it’s an elevator ride for the [team] bus. It was crazy.”
Although he wasn’t old enough to remember baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers playing in his home borough before they moved to Los Angeles, where he attended college, Gibson can appreciate how bringing back a professional sports team—aside from minor league baseball’s Brooklyn Cyclones, based in Coney Island—has helped revitalized Brooklyn, as the downtown section is thriving these days.
“My grandparents used to talk about the [Brooklyn] Dodgers and how they left. They didn’t like that, but now another team’s back. There’s a lot of pride out here. It’s good for the community because people used to really go so far to see a sports team, but now they have the Brooklyn Nets here. They just go right down the street, come support. It’s good for the community, good to keep kids out of trouble,” he said. “It’s great. I think it’s just amazing, to come in here and see a lot of technology. It shows they put a lot of time and a lot of money into it. That’s good for the community, to see little kids come in here and see that good things do happen in Brooklyn.”
Even Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau appreciated the gleaming new arena — for about one second — before the man who once observed that he expected his players to bring ladders if the NBA scheduled a Bulls game on the roof at midnight went back into his usual game-day mode.
“It’s great. I think everyone’s excited about playing here, so we’re looking forward to it. Brooklyn’s a great team. It’s going to be a great challenge for us,” said Thibodeau, who added, “not really,” when asked if he ever explored Brooklyn during his time as an assistant coach in New York. “It’s new, but what we have to do is not new, so we have to be the same.”
Thibodeau insisted, “it’s great to be here, it really is,” and while it’s obvious that he could not care less where road games take place as long as the Bulls play to his satisfaction, he did acknowledge that he understood Gibson’s excitement.
“I don’t want him to change. I know he’s excited to be home. I think that’s the way most guys are, but I think he’s been down this road before when we played New York,” said Thibodeau, who noted that Gibson “could” start Friday if Boozer was unavailable. “This probably has a little added meaning for him because of where he grew up, but Taj has been playing well and we need him to play well tonight.”
For Gibson, being back in Brooklyn has a deeper meaning than simply playing in his hometown, as he wasn’t considered one of the young prodigies on New York’s basketball scene as a kid.
“Whenever you see a player from Brooklyn—like I see [Utah backup point guard and Brooklyn native] Jamaal Tinsley all the time — you just get that mutual respect. Like Joakim, he understands me because he understands that it’s really tough. Even though it’s ‘The [basketball] Mecca,’ one of the best places to play basketball, when you make it out of here, it’s tough,” he explained. “I remember me and Joakim, just playing AAU basketball together — he played for the Long Island Panthers, I played for the New York Gauchos — when you think about it, me and him, we weren’t really the guys that you’d expect to make it to the NBA. That’s how much talent and crazy it was. I never thought I’d make it to the NBA.
“Just being on the Gauchos, I was just happy to wear the Gauchos jersey and to look at how far I’ve come, just playing in Brooklyn, playing across the city, it’s just great to come back here and be a part of this,” Gibson continued. “I was just trying to get [playing] time on the team and I was like the 12th man, but as time went on, you look at all the talent New York has always had — but it’s not easy to get guys in the NBA — you’re in a special league of guys.
“[Noah and Gibson reflect on their past] sometimes, but we appreciate it. He says it all the time, ‘It’s the concrete jungle.’ It’s so hard. Where we come from, it’s so hard to make it out of the city. It’s a city full of guards, a city full of tough players, so if you make it out, NBA life should be easy because it’s tough in the boroughs of New York.
"There’s so much talent out here. Guys are like 6-7, dribbling the basketball like guards,” he went on to say. “I just had to mature. I couldn’t even dribble, I couldn’t even rebound, but they just had me on the team because I was tall. I was one of the tallest guys on the team, but as time went on, I just kept developing and kept working at it, and that’s why I play hard, the way I play now because in New York, you’ve got to do something. You’ve got to play hard all the time. The one thing about guys coming out to play at the Rucker, guys play hard because they understand that it’s do or die when you’re on this court. You never know if somebody could be watching you.”
But whatever the shared experience between players from New York as a whole, Gibson, claims that being from Brooklyn is unique.
“They know you went through a lot just to get where you’re at because I’m telling you, there were a lot of times when you’re on the basketball court, going from different [public housing] projects—the first thing you see when you come off the [Manhattan] bridge, to the left, you see projects,” said Gibson, who lived in a massive high-rise building on Myrtle Avenue, a major thoroughfare in Brooklyn, that’s visible from the bridge. “You hear about nothing but a lot of projects and a lot of different things going on in Brooklyn that’s probably negative, but to make it out of that and know that you went through that struggle, it means a lot and you get a lot of respect from a lot of ballplayers that came through here.”