Taj Gibson here to be mentor, help nurture younger Wizards


The No. 67 jersey Taj Gibson wears has a special meaning. When the big man chose the number five years ago, he was the first player in NBA history to wear it. It is an homage to his hometown — the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn, home to PS 67. It has been with him through two seasons in Minnesota and three with the Knicks in New York, where his Brooklyn accent and his No. 67 fit right in.

Now Gibson will carry a little bit of New York — and a little bit of his history — with him down Interstate 95.

The circumstances are different after the 37-year-old center left the Knicks and agreed to a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum exception with the Washington Wizards this month, but Gibson’s goal as a player remains the same. The veteran wants to be just that: a mentor for Washington’s stable of young players.

“My role at this stage in my career is just always stay ready but at the same time be a great teammate, be a mentor,” he said during a teleconference Wednesday. “I’m just a team-first guy — I put the team first, and I’m really unselfish. I’m just looking forward to being around the guys, trying to give forth whatever I can to help a team be successful and win.”

Gibson said it was a tough decision to leave his home city, where he had a close relationship with Knicks Coach Tom Thibodeau, whom he also played for in Chicago.

For three new Wizards players, DC is familiar and an opportunity

But in Washington, he felt there was an opportunity to help nurture a roster still searching for consistency. Gibson will be the Wizards’ oldest player by more than five years, and he has 13 seasons of lessons to pass on. His career started with a hot season with the Bulls that landed him on the all-rookie first team in 2010. He has played for four organizations. He has started, come off the bench, been traded and morphed into a locker room stalwart in his later years. He has seen how Team USA prepares for the Olympics as a member of the national select team — the equivalent of the practice squad — before the 2012 London Games.

“What made me join the Wizards was … understanding they have a lot of talent, understanding it’s a young team still trying to figure out how to win games,” Gibson said. “I felt it was a good opportunity to go around some young guys that are talented, have a chance to actually do something in this league. It was a no-brainer.”

As for his on-court duties, Gibson sounded clear-eyed. The 6-foot-9 big man, behind both Daniel Gafford and Kristaps Porzingis on the depth chart, averaged 4.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in 18.2 minutes last season. He knows his place isn’t to try to change anyone’s game.

“Porzingis is a talent, and you’ve got Gafford — he’s a super young, athletic talent I’ve been watching since Arkansas,” Gibson said. “So just coming around those two guys, I’m not trying to tweak anything, really. I’m trying to come give that support but, at the same time, try to help them any way I can.”

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