Dan Kelly, Guest ColumnistNEW YORK — Taj Gibson's tone was thoughtful and his words were mostly nostalgic as he stood on the court at Barclays Center. There he was, back home in Brooklyn, talking to the NBA media during this morning's pregame shoot-around.
Tonight, Gibson's Chicago Bulls will battle the Nets at Barclays Center, and Gibson couldn't be more excited.
"Just looking at how far I've come from playing in Brooklyn, playing across the city, its great to come back and be a part of this," Gibson said.
The fourth year power forward grew up only minutes from Barclays Center in the Fort Greene Projects and he's not the only New York native on the Chicago Bulls roster. He and his front court mate Joakim Noah, a Queens native, often reminisce about their early days on the local AAU circuit.
"[Noah] played for the Long Island Panthers. I played for the New York Gauchos," Gibson said. "If you think about it, me and him, we weren't really the guys that you would expect to make the NBA. That's how much talent and how crazy it was. I didn't think I would make it to the NBA...I mean I was happy to just wear the Gaucho jersey."
Gibson and Noah are both known as tough, scrappy, and efficient defensive players on the third stingiest defense in the league. The Bulls are allowing only 97.8 points per 100 possessons this season. That's something the Nets, allowing 103.4, aspire to.
Together, the Chicago's New York City duo limited the opposition to 62 percent shooting on attempts at the rim. That's seventh best in the league. Collectively, the Bulls only allow their opposition to get 24 attempts at the rim per game, and that's fifth best in the league.
You do the math and you will realize that Gibson and Noah cause their opponents to miss nine shots at the rim each game. That's huge.
Gibson gives credit to New York City basketball for shaping he and Noah into such defensive stalwarts. "In New York, you gotta play hard all the time, like the one thing about the guys playing at Rucker, those guys play hard cause they understand that it's do or die when you're on these courts," Gibson said. "How hard [Noah] plays, he got that from playing in New York, from knowing that that's how he had to play to be on the basketball court."
The Bulls are going to bring their signature toughness to Barclays Center tonight in a matchup between teams with the third and fourth best records in the Eastern Conference.
For the Bulls, a victory would only add to their confidence as they continue to win games and improve while Derrick Rose rehabs and eyes a post All-Star game return. In January, the club put together a very impressive 12-4 record which included victories over the Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors.
For the Nets, a victory would be a statement that they can compete with upper echelon NBA teams. Entering tonight's game, they're just 10-19 against teams with winning records.
For Taj Gibson, it's another day to look back and appreciate how far he's come since the days of playing pick-up games at Tillery Park and West 4th Street.
"It's just so hard," Gibson said. "For where we come from, to just make it out of this 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."