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Taj Gibson hasn’t taken much time off this summer. He’s been in New York for most of the offseason, working with some of the young Knicks at the team training facility or working with young players at the Ingersoll Community Center in Fort Greene.
“It was really tough to take a break and get out of town,” Gibson says.
He was at the Community Center again on Saturday for the fourth annual Taj Gibson Day, an event hosted by his foundation that features games between area youth teams. This year’s event honored streetball legend Edward "Booger" Smith, who had a significant influence on Gibson when he was a young player in Fort Greene.
Gibson’s foundation, which is run by a group of his hometown friends that includes Tameek Floyd, Geo Miller, Gregory Watson, and Tyquan Midyett, has been holding events in the community for the past 12 years.
At Saturday’s event, Gibson took some time to talk about his foundation, Smith, his decision to re-sign with the Knicks, and his thoughts on the coming season:
Q: WHAT DOES A DAY LIKE TODAY MEAN TO YOU AND YOUR FOUNDATION?
GIBSON: I tried to come back and show my face in my community, to be a face they can just recognize. It's constantly just knowing that I'm around. They can always come to me, come talk to me about anything. And that's how it has been the last 12 years. I got the community behind me and we’ll continue to keep doing it. But today is for Ed ‘Booger’ Smith. He's done a lot for all my community, he’s a guy that a lot of kids grew up watching and trying to emulate and be like. So we're just trying to do the right thing and just give him his due and his flowers while he’s here. ...I grew up watching him, I grew up going to games with him. Watching him inspired me to just want to be the basketball player I wanted to be. Just (wanted to) represent him.”
Q: MENTORSHIP IS A BIG PRINCIPLE FOR YOUR FOUNDATION. WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT TO YOU?
GIBSON: “You see what's going on (in the community). A lot of unemployment, a lot of children losing their family members due to COVID. There are so many different things going on. We just tried to step in and just be ourselves and just be the normal nice guys we’re accustomed to being around this neighborhood. It's ups and downs. Nothing's perfect; but we're not giving up. And we having a fun time just trying to help the community.”
Q: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE BACK WITH THE KNICKS?
GIBSON: “It's always great to wear a Knicks jersey. It's always great to come into the practice facility, to see the coaching staff, see World Wide Wes, see Leon Rose, see all these guys cause it's like a one big family. It's such a great atmosphere, full of jokes. Plus it's my hometown, I grew up a Knicks fan. So I'm just embracing it, still taking it in. But it's really fun.”
Q: MULTIPLE TEAMS HAD INTEREST IN YOU DURING FREE AGENCY. WAS IT AN EASY DECISION TO RETURN TO THE KNICKS?
GIBSON: To be honest with you, every free agency is always tough because it's always a decision where you’re either going to turn down money, pick up some money, or you are going to just go to a good situation. Each situation you have to really evaluate it. You have to really take a full day (to evaluate it). I'm grateful that a lot of teams really gave me some time to really think about what I wanted to do. They had a lot of respect for me (as a player and) the person I am off the court too. So it was real frustrating. But it was a good frustrating. At the same time, I knew I'd made the right decision. Even if it's (less) money, money doesn't move me. I just wanted to be a Knick.
Q: WHAT WERE SOME FACTORS THAT LED TO YOU RE-SIGNING IN NEW YORK?
GIBSON: "I'm really just being myself, being a good teammate, going in there and working out every day, whatever happens, happens. They know I'm ready, always willing and ready to play whenever I have to. But right now, I'm just happy to be the vet, the guy that comes in, works out hard every day, but is always ready and capable. And I'm having a good time being with these young guys every day and just trying to help build a culture. Who knows where it can take me - even after my career. So I'm just doing the right things right now. But being around the young guys, especially experiencing last year, it helped me make the right decision again."
Q: WHAT DO YOU TIHNK ABOUT THE REST OF THE EASTERN CONFERENCE?
GIBSON: "Every year, every team gets better. Every rookie comes back a little stronger, with a little more of a chip on their shoulder. It gets harder. I think the Bulls are a team that's going to be trying to make some noise. The whole East, the Pacers are tough. Everybody's going to be better. It's all going to come down to who comes together (early) and gets their group rolling and who can be healthy. People don't understand how important it is to be healthy (late in the season) and being healthy in the playoffs. Losing Mitchell Robinson was a big key in my eyes. That's why I'm trying to help guys get back in together so we can maybe get this thing going the right way."
Q: DID YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO PLAY WITH ANY OF THE YOUNG KNICKS THIS SUMMER?
GIBSON: "We haven't really been playing any five on five, but the whole summer I was with the young guys in the gym, just up there at the practice facility all summer, mostly. Didn’t really get a chance to take any time off. Just being with the guys, hanging with young guys, talking to the vets, talking to the guys. Had a real busy summer, just communicating with guys, keeping guys together."
Q: YOU TALKED ABOUT OTHER TEAMS IN THE EAST EARLIER. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE KNICKS GOING INTO 2021-22?
GIBSON: "To be honest, I don't wanna put my foot in my mouth but this team looks really stacked. We have a lot of young talent. I was watching Jericho Sims, he's a talent. I was watching how Obi [Toppin] played so well, [Immanuel Quickley] Quick played well. We have a lot of guys who really put the work in. Then we got guys coming in Kemba [Walker], [Evan] Fournier. Then we got Alec Burks back. Of course, you gotta come back with Nerlens [Noel]. He's been rock solid the whole year. You gotta understand our team really did that whole record with a banged up roster. You know, I just hope that we can just come together, even stronger, take the next step.”
Q: TAJ GIBSON DAY TAKES PLACE IN FORT GREENE EVERY SUMMER. WHAT IS IT LIKE GIVING BACK TO YOUR HOMETOWN?
GIBSON: This event is always important because this is the hometown. These are the people I grew up watching every day, literally walking out of apartments, literally going to the store for these people. So it's a lot of deep ties. I try to stay as normal as possible as far as just being able to just be approachable being able to stay in my community. And that's what it's been. And it's always good to give back, but it's more than just giving back. I'm looking at (addressing) the real issues because I understand that this is the next generation. These are the next ones. We’re trying to send them to college and help them get on whatever career they want. I got generations of kids that I've been with this (from this) project and now they’re adults with children. And we’ll keep going.”