Cheers, what are you drinking?
Right now I’m just drinking cranberry juice but during the offseason the juice would have different things mixed with it. I really like vodka lemonades in the summer. I also just started getting into wine so I’ve been drinking wine lately and I really like it.
You chose to meet us at Gibsons. Is this one of your favorite spots?
Yeah, I come here all of the time. After every game, no matter how late it is I can call and say, “Hey, I’m starving! Can you make a plate for me to eat?” They’re so good to me here and everyone is always so friendly.
What is the first memory you have of falling in love with basketball?
The first memory I have of basketball is how it brought me closer to my dad. That was the best thing I’d have to say. We got to hang out a lot and talk about the game. Not many guys can really say they have a good relationship with their father but my dad and I got along so well because he played basketball and I played basketball so we met right down the middle.
When did you start to notice you were a little better at the game than the average kid?
It was probably when I was in the 8th grade and I caught my first dunk. I remember I was so ecstatic for months. I had been working on it every night and my German shepherd Lexi came with me everywhere I went so she’d sit there and watch me try to learn how to dunk. Every night you’d hear me yell, “Come on! I’m so close! Please God, just let me make this first dunk,” and my dog would just be sitting there watching me try to make the impossible happen. Lexi’s so old now, I’ve had her since I was 11.
The road to the NBA isn’t always an easy one. What was your biggest hurdle?
There are always roadblocks in life. Growing up in Brooklyn and having to move to California to go to school out there was difficult because I really had to adjust. I went from knowing my way around New York and having friends and being secure to living in California in an area that had a lot of gangs. It was a complete turnaround but I was able to withstand it, stay on the right course and meet the right people at the right times. Even when I had my doubts I had a lot of people around me who pushed me harder and wanted me to be great. I had coaches that always motivated me and told me, “A lot of people are going to think you’re just an athlete. I want you to show them how wrong they are every single day.” I just stayed late after class, put in the extra work and did whatever it took to be the next best thing.
Which athlete made the biggest impression on you growing up?
Michael Jordan. When I first got to Chicago in my head I wanted to meet him so bad but I was like, “I’ll probably never get to meet him.” Then one night we were playing Charlotte, it was my rookie year, the last game of the season for us to clinch to go to the playoffs. If we lost, we would go home. We beat Charlotte and that same night Micheal Jordan comes into the locker room and he talks to me for awhile, like 20 minutes, about the game, about how he likes my game, about wearing the Bulls jersey. It was just so amazing because he was interacting with me on an eye-to-eye level. It was one of the best things ever. When I got on the bus I kinda got teary-eyed. I was like, “Wow. I’m really in the NBA. This is crazy. This is so cool.” Then Joakim [Noah] just looked at me and he had felt what I felt. He said, “You made it, man. Just take it in stride. Just believe in yourself,” and we’re still here to this day.
How would your teammates describe you?
I’m the guy who really gets along with everybody. I’m shy around people I just meet but once I get to know you I open up. I like to feel people out and see what pushes their buttons, what doesn’t push their buttons and find out where I really fit in. I’m the guy who comes in and wakes everybody up. I’m energetic, I laugh. I bring donuts! I just know how to read people and what they’re feeling so if you’re feeling down, maybe nobody else knows but I’ll know. That’s the kind of person I am.
Who’s the funniest guy in the locker room?
That’d be me again! I’m always joking and everybody’s always joking with me. I always make ’em laugh, I’m never too serious. If the mood in the locker room is down, I pick it up every time. Every time! I like to just go out there and have fun. When I’m on the court I play so hard so when I’m off I just like being a spark plug.
One question reporters always ask that gets on your nerves?
“When’s Derrick [Rose] coming back?” I probably get that question 40 times a day even with regular people or fans on the street. I say, “He’s gonna come back when he’s ready to come back!” It’s a big injury, you have to respect it and let him heal. I’ll be in New York eating outside and they’re like, “How ya doin’ Taj! Where’s Derrick at? Where’s Joakim? Where’s everybody at?” I’m like, “They’re living their lives!”
Take us through what’s going through your mind when you’re on the court.
I’m shy so it’s really tough to try and keep a straight face. As soon as I come in the game and hear, “Yeah, Taj! Let’s go!” I immediately start laughing. I never look into the crowd because if I do, then I’m just gonna start laughing! It’s crazy out there but it’s all fun. I remember one time we were playing in New York and I was bent down tying my shoe and somebody said, “That was a good shot down there,” and at the time I didn’t think they were talking to me but then I heard, “Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you!” I look up and it’s Floyd Mayweather.
Give us something fans would be surprised to know about you.
I love watching TV shows with drama like VH1’s “Basketball Wives”, “Love & Hip Hop” and “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”. I love all the housewives, I watch them all. Draamaaa! [Laughs] It’s because when we play we have so much time to kill during the day. You go to practice, you do extra drills afterwards, you treat, you lift but then when you leave it’s only 1 p.m. and you still have so much time.
Do you stay in Chicago during the offseason?
Sometimes. I have a house in Northbrook but I usually go between L.A. and New York. Chicago will always be home though. What I love most about Chicago is the people, they’re just so real. You can walk outside and a person may cuss you out but in the end they’ll love you just the same. I’ve gotten that many times! The people in Chicago are their own kind, they speak their minds but are still humble.
Most memorable fan experience?
Ah, man. One time this dude was with his wife and said, “Taj, my wife loves you. I’ll divorce her and give her to you right now. You can have her! The way she talks about you, just take her!” I didn’t really know what to say back to that.
Once you retire from the league, how do you hope to spend your time?
When I’m done playing basketball I just plan on spending my time helping my community and giving back. I want to be a coach one day so hopefully I’ll be coaching and have a family, just sitting back and having kids.
Are you single?
Yeah. I was in a relationship but I’m not anymore.
What qualities are you looking for in the future Mrs. Gibson?
I don’t know, that’s a tough one because a lot of people these days aren’t what they seem. On the outside they may seem one way but then when you hang out with them behind the scenes they’re a different kind of person. I dated a couple of girls that were in the industry and they just shocked me! I was all heartbroken.
If you’re taking a girl out on a first date, where do you take her?
My ideal first date is probably getting some dinner and talking in a quiet area. It’s really traditional. I like to sit down, get to know one another and feel each other out. Whatever happens after that, just happens. I like being random.
Best party you’ve ever been to?
I’ve been to a lot of parties! Hmm… I guess I’d say partying at the Playboy Mansion. The Playboy Mansion was nice. That’s all I’m gonna say, it was nice!
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Michael Jackson. I would also like to meet Obama. I’ve never had a chance to see him or meet him so hopefully I’ll get a chance one day. He’s cool with Joakim and everybody else on the team but I dunno, when is he gonna be cool with me?