SHENZHEN, China -- Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Taj Gibson is making history this season by becoming the first player to wear the No. 67 in NBA history. The reason he chose the number is just as noteworthy.
"Fort Greene," Gibson said proudly after Tuesday's practice. "Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Fort Greene projects, Brooklyn. That's all you need to know. Everybody from my neighborhood knows what that means. That's all that matters."
Gibson, who grew up in the Fort Greene projects, wore No. 22 throughout the last eight seasons with the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder, but that number belongs to Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota. Gibson said one of the main reasons for the switch came after speaking to children in the same neighborhood where he grew up. Fort Greene is home to P.S. 67, Charles A. Dorsey School, in New York.
"I asked a couple people in the neighborhood, and they asked me, 'What number are you going to pick?' And I asked them, 'What number should I pick?'" Gibson said. "They said, '67!' They said it with a smile on their face. I said, you know what? At first I was like, nah, but then I was like, if that's what you want me to put, why not? It's only a number, so why not? It represents my neighborhood, so why not?"
The last professional basketball player to wear No. 67 was Moe Becker of the Detroit Falcons of the Basketball Association of America (BAA), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Falcons folded after one year, and the BAA merged with the National Basketball League (NBL) in 1949 to form the NBA.
Gibson wants to use the number as a source of pride for the people around him. He hopes to motivate the same young kids to accomplish whatever they desire.
"Just doing it for the kids, the community," Gibson said. "So they know when they see that on my jersey, anything's possible. Don't care about what anybody thinks. Don't worry about the negatives. Just push through and do what you want to do with your life. Straightforward. So when I do [switch numbers] people back home know what it means."
Gibson has mentioned in the past that Tom Thibodeau, his head coach with the Bulls and now with the Timberwolves, used Gibson's ties to Fort Greene to motivate the power forward during their years together. Gibson knows his coach understands why the number means so much to him.
"He came to a couple funerals [of friends who were killed]," Gibson said. "He came to my area. He's seen how it is. He already knows what kind of person I am, so he don't have to say much to me [about the number]."
Gibson, 32, has lost many friends to gun violence over the years. He has always been open about the pride he takes in where he came from and the hope he has for a better future. He is appreciative of the journey that has led him to fame and fortune in the NBA.
"I take a lot of pride," Gibson said. "Because you have to understand, coming out of New York is tough. You look at the last couple years, the drop-off, we're getting back to it now. I had to really leave New York and go to California. I followed the Jamal Tinsley kind of route.
"How he went from New York to junior college in California. But instead, I went to a prep school in California and just do what I had to do to make it. It wasn't an easy route and I wouldn't change it for anything in the world, but just being around Thibs every day helps me, it wakes me up, because he pushes you to the limit. He makes you realize where you come from."
As Gibson and Thibodeau lead the Timberwolves into two preseason games in China against the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, both men know how lucky they are to be in the position they are in.
"Basketball has been able to take me to a lot of places I would never [think] I would be," Gibson said. "Being in China is a testament to that. Different culture, but people still know my face when I stepped off the plane, and calling my name out vividly, so it was pretty cool."