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For Taj Gibson, Brooklyn and Fort Greene are more than where he comes from

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NBA: Denver Nuggets at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Taj Gibson is in town this weekend for both the Timberwolves’ game Friday afternoon and Thanksgiving. Brooklyn, specifically Fort Greene, is home and the 33-year-old who grew up in the projects has never stopped being from the neighborhood.

He wears No. 67 to honor his elementary school, P.S. 67, and his uses his non-profit, 67 Enterprises, to help hold the community and school together.

As he told former Nets beat writer Mike Mazzeo, writing for CloseUp360...

“I run basketball tournaments in the Ingersoll Community Center all year around. I do book bag giveaways to kids from Brooklyn in my community, Fort Greene house. I have a toy giveaway for Christmas every year in P.S. 67.

“I pay for prom outfits for the whole graduating class. I pay for many funerals for people of the community and others in Brooklyn. I help so many people with different issues financially. There’s so many to count. I have given back a million dollars, give or take, since I’ve been in the NBA. It’s not for media; I do this from my heart.”

Never a big star in the NBA, Gibson has been as reliable in the NBA as he is in Fort Greene, with career averages of 10 and six over 10 years, playing all 82 games three times and this year, starting all 18 games for the TWolves and averaging 10.8 and 6.6 rebounds.

He tells Mazzeo he is forever grateful for his success and even a bit surprised, considering his upbringing.

“I learned to be real humble there,” he told Mazzeo, recalling his job at a moving company where his father also worked. “At the job site, most of the movers on the truck came from jail, and some people had just come into the country with no paperwork. I was in the pits with them—carrying boxes, doing chain gang stuff, being in basements in the hot summers.

“It woke me up, like, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ But I think it kept me grounded because every day, I’d speak to those men during our lunch break and they’d tell me about being in jail. I was 14 at the time and my dad allowed it because I was tough and could handle it. It was dope.”

And often, when back in Brooklyn, he reflects on all the things that got him where he is today ... and the responsibilities of not just giving back, but being involved. There is a difference.

“I try to deal with it by just going for long walks on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade at night, thinking about how far I’ve come. I look at the city and I think to myself that I’m blessed that I’m still here, and it’s not that bad. And then I come back to reality and try to do my best to help.”

He jokes about how Thom Thibodeau’s rants, which he heard first in Chicago and now Minnesota. They’re nothing compared to his first coaches in Fort Greene.

“I felt like I could handle anything just because those guys were screaming at me, yelling at me and then I had to walk home and fight almost every day,” he recalled. “So when “Thibs” [Tom Thibodeau] and all these guys yell at me, that’s like a walk in the park because I came from somewhere way harder, with a struggle way bigger.”

Despite the troubles in Minnesota this season, Gibson remains a fan of Thibs. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Thibs coming to my friends’ funerals. He’s the only coach that really showed me love. He was there through all the rough times.”

One funeral that goes unmentioned in Mazzeo’s profile is that of his cousin, Prince Joshua Avitto, who was stabbed to death in the projects at age 6 in 2014. Tragedy is never far away.

There is, as he says, satisfaction in helping, but there is also a weight on his soul.

“A lot of my close friends have gotten killed during my NBA career. Some of them were during the season. Some of them were after the season. You never know.

“My phone is like a revolving door of messages. You could get a call that somebody’s incarcerated. You could get a call that somebody’s sick, somebody’s on their deathbed. I get those calls all the time. So now it’s like it’s not just me I’m thinking about. I’ve got to think about a lot of people. It’s tough at times. It’s tough.”

But he understands responsibility, understands that the toughness that is his “brand” was honed here, that the people who got him to where he is need him now. And it all makes him happy. Happy Thanksgiving.