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Knicks forward and Brooklyn native Taj Gibson takes a shot at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: Describe your on-court mentality.
A: Intense … real locked-in. And I turn into a different person, other than when I’m outside. I may smile to my family that’s sitting in the stands for one second, then it’s cold turkey. I don’t really know anybody else.
Q: Describe what that person is like on the court.
A: I’m ferocious. I’m gonna hit you. My job is to protect my teammates, set hard screens and just play ferocious. Just whatever it takes — dive on the floor, dive on the ball. It’s kind of like an out-of-body experience. Whatever it takes to get the job done, you don’t really care.
Q: So, you can take the boy out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take the Brooklyn out of the boy.
A: You can’t, you can’t. Because it’s a dog-eat-dog world on that court. Nobody’s gonna feel sorry for you, especially in the pros. You just gotta go out there and just … you gotta headhunt.
Q: Describe the gangs in Los Angeles.
A: When I got to L.A., I didn’t really understand it ’cause I was a kid from Brooklyn, New York, so the New York Gauchos and a good coach in Gary Simms — rest in peace — he was known for taking a lot of guys out of Brooklyn and helping them get to good prep schools, so they sent me to Stoneridge Preparatory in California. … New York had the gangs, too, but it wasn’t too extreme the way it was in California. It was intense, but if you can survive in New York, you can survive anywhere. I didn’t have any problems. The New York in me just kind of protected me.
Q: How tough was it in Fort Greene?
A: Fort Greene has always been tough. … Fort Greene Ingersoll Houses has always been tough. It was a lot of murders, a lot of killings. To this day, I thank my dad personally for some days making me stay in the house, ’cause there was a lot of stuff going on outside. I lost a lot of friends that were just … young, and never got a chance to grow. I think my parents deserve most of the credit for just knowing when to keep me inside and keep me locked in.
Q: How close were the friends you lost?
A: We were real close. One thing about Fort Greene, we’re a tight-knit group. Fort Greene is just tough, I can’t even explain it to you. It was either play basketball, you rap, you sell drugs or you just be in the streets. But lucky for me, I’d wake up early, and back in the day when you used to wake up early, the drug dealers would be out early, and I used to be outside, and my neighborhood was so dope because they never bothered me. The drug dealers never bothered me. Sometimes they would even rebound for me. They’ll be out early in the morning and they’ll hoop with me. They’ll make sure I get my shots, they’ll challenge me, they’ll play pick up, they’ll do everything.
Enlarge ImageTaj Gibson
Taj GibsonAnthony J. Causi
Q: What about all the fights you had?
A: When I first started coming outside, I used to get picked on every day.
A: Maybe sitting up straight. Maybe talking too proper. Maybe coming out smiling too much. One thing about Fort Greene, they used to beat me up for the smallest things. I got beat up maybe over 50 times. Every day I came outside I had to fight somebody (laugh). Every day! It creates toughness in you, and after a while, you just deal with it.
Q: Was there ever a time that you feared for your life?
A: Of course. You always got a sense of just being a little wary about the gunshots and worry about your safety, but … I had a good friend of mine, his name is Charles Wynn, rest in peace. At the time he was the best player in Fort Greene, in my opinion, in my age group. He used to always tell me growing up, he said, “Man, you got one life to live.” He said, “Where we come from, life’s taken for granted. So every time you come outside and you play ball, it should be a smile on your face knowing where we come from.” I got drafted in 2009. He was at my draft party. I was telling him I was scared. I didn’t really know where I was gonna get drafted. I was kind of crying, I was just a little nervous. He told me, “Whatchu crying for?” He’s like, “Where we come from … this is nuthin’. We already went through the hard part.” And my other best friend, which is coming out of jail after doing 9¹/₂ [years], his name is Tameek Floyd. He gets out of Fishkill Correctional Facility Dec. 12.
Q: How soon after the draft was Charles killed?
A: It was maybe a year or so later. He got shot in Canarsie.
Q: And how do you know Tameek?
A: We grew up together. He took me to the New York Gauchos.
Q: Why was he in prison?
A: He got caught up in the streets [burglary]. He’s college educated — just made a bad decision and ended up having to do 10 years in jail.
Q: Have you visited him?
A: Every year, I got pictures. Every year. I’ve been going to Downstate Correctional Facility and then when he got transferred to Fishkill Correctional Facility, I’ve been going up there ever since. I go up there every weekend almost.
Q: Has he been following your career?
A: He calls me every day. We talk every day for the last 10 years.
Q: What does it mean to you that he’s getting out?
A: It means the world to me, because he’s my best friend. Just ’cause he’s locked up don’t mean I’m gonna change.
For more on the Knicks, listen to the latest episode of the “Big Apple Buckets” podcast:
Q: How often did you go to the Garden as a kid?
A: My dad used to take me there all the time. My dad used to work for a carpentry company, so just like everything else blue-collar, we’d sit up in the rafters all the way up top. After a long day at work, he’d take me.
Q: Who were your favorite Knicks?
A: John Starks and then Patrick Ewing, of course. And then when I got to the league, one of the first people I met was Patrick Ewing.
Q: What was that like?
A: It was amazing. He was real down-to-earth, he was real cool, and to this day, everyone I’ve seen, he always asks how’s my family, how’s my brother doing? He’s a good guy.
Q: What was the first time you played at the Garden?
A: The very first time I played at the Garden was … USC versus Derrick Rose and Memphis [December 2007]. It was nerve-wracking. It was unique because it was one of my first games back home. It was fun, I got to see my friends and family come to the Garden.
Q: Any favorite Knicks memories?
A: The four-point play from LJ [Larry Johnson]. I wasn’t at that game, but I remember watching it vividly ’cause back then most of the people back in New York used to have their TVs outside with extension cords and watching it in front of the building. I remember LJ hit the four-point play, and I remember [former Knicks assistant coach] Tom Thibodeau, to this day, my old [Bulls] coach is on the sidelines screaming the way he always be screaming, yelling.
Q: Why does this city love the Knicks?
A: You’ll probably have to ask my dad and the guys before me, it’s just tradition, it’s what you grow up on.
Q: Describe the rivalry with the Nets.
A: Right now we’re just focusing on us.
Taj Gibson’s biggest value to Knicks is all about teammate
Q: But it’s electric in the building when you guys play the Nets, right?
A: Yeah, yeah. I think the city just loves the competitiveness of the games, and I think it’s good for the city.
Q: Describe Frank Ntilikina.
A: I love Frank. Frank is eager to learn, he’s eager to get better. I think he’s taking the next step, which is understanding what he has to do to become a good professional basketball player in this league. When I first met Frank, he was just a totally different kid. He really didn’t understand it, I think, right then and there. He’s only scratched the surface.
Q: Mitchell Robinson.
A: Pure talent. He’s playing off of pure talent. He’s only scratched a little bit of the surface.
Q: How good can he be?
A: He can be All-World if he wants. He works extremely hard every morning with me, and he’s extremely competitive. And he listens. And you can’t teach those things.
Q: RJ Barrett.
A: Same thing like Mitch and Frank. Super-competitive, eager to learn, always willing to listen. He has a grown man frame already.
Q: What is your best single basketball moment, other than this interview?
A: Other than this interview was going to the  Eastern Conference finals. Just knowing how hard it is to win basketball games in the NBA, but when you’re locked in with a group guys, to have a bond and you’re in the heat of the battle each and every night, especially going against everybody’s opinion on you, telling you you can’t do something, you can’t do this and you overachieve in it, that’s the best feeling in the world.
Q: What was it like beating Kevin Durant and Texas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2007?
A: It was cool. Understanding that you’re competing at a higher level. All these things and dreams as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, you wish to have. You wish to go play for a big school, you wish to go get a college education. You dream all these things while playing on the pickup run in front of your building … late nights when you’re outside shooting on the rim and it’s raining outside.
Julius Randle celebrates with Taj GibsonGetty Images
Q: Describe the young Derrick Rose.
A: Fast, athletic, just a beast.
Q: Boyhood idol?
A: Ed “Booger” Smith and Omar Cook. They’re both from my neighborhood. They’re both real inspirational as far as just basketball in the whole New York City.
Q: Did you ever run into Bernard King or Albert King?
A: I saw Albert at the Brooklyn Nets game like year before last, and I was astonished ’cause I’ve been trying to meet them almost my whole life. And then I met Bernard during training camp. It was so surreal because I grew up in Fort Greene just always hearing about them, and almost every kid in my neighborhood is just trying to be just like them, so they were like an urban legend that you never got a chance to see.
Q: What did you say to Bernard?
A: It was just like, “Man, I’ve been hearing about you my whole life. A great feeling to finally get a chance to meet you.”
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: Biggie Smalls, Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy.
Q: Favorite movie?
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Wesley Snipes.
Q: Favorite actress?
A: Halle Berry.
Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
Q: Favorite meal?
A: Snow crab legs.
Q: New York or Chicago pizza?
A: New York.
A: I like to go to museums on my day off. I want to help in my community, I want to bring jobs to my community, I want to build different things around my community and help the next generation move on.
A: Whatever brings me good luck, we try to remix it (smile).
Q: Has this been the career you imagined as a kid?
A: No, to be honest with you. I thought I was gonna be a carpenter or a firefighter. I really wanted to be a firefighter growing up. The local fire department in my neighborhood was the 110. I’ve been going to that fire station since I was a kid (smile). When I got a flat tire, you can always count on going to the fire stations for flat tires, get drinks of water, maybe have cookies and milk. Those are old memories I remember growing up in Fort Greene doing.
Q: But no regrets not becoming a firefighter?
A: I just got a little too tall for it, I guess (smile), but I really wanted to be a firefighter. My parents’ll tell you that. But my dad was a master carpenter, so that was always in the back of my pocket.
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Q: What drives you?
A: My neighborhood. Knowing that I got people watching me. I got people just depending on me. I want to do the right thing for my neighborhood, set the tone for the next generation.
Q: How much longer do you want to play?
A: However many years the man above allows me to play. Every day I get up I have a smile on my face and I thank the man above, and I just go out there and I just play.
Q: What are you most proud of about your career?
Q: That I was a late first-round pick [26th overall by the Bulls in 2009], and I’m playing in the NBA a whole decade later (smile) after everybody in my draft class kind of weathered off.
Q: Did you want the Knicks to draft you?
A: Of course! I was talking to Allan [Houston] about it. Everything happens for a reason, and I’m here now, that’s all that matters.
Q: What’s it like for you being a New York Knick?
A: It’s amazing, man. Every day I come here I get to look at the retired numbers in the rafters. … I look at the logo on the main court … then I get to walk in the back, I see the weight room, I see all the festivities that’s at my disposal. It still feels like my first year in the NBA for me. I don’t take anything for granted. Every day I come into the gym I smile and I’m super-happy, I’m super-electric and I’m ready to practice.