Motivated by his own experiences, Gibson provides a family with an unforgettable Christmas
By Adam Fluck | 12.18.2014
The holidays are meant to be a joyous time when people take a break from their normal routines to be with family or close friends. Lavish meals and thoughtful gifts often come into play this time of year.
The reality, however, is that not everyone is able to enjoy the holidays and oftentimes that is due to financial hardships.
Taj Gibson can relate. As a youngster growing up in Brooklyn, times were often tough for his family. Both of his parents worked when they could, but it seemed they were inevitably laid off from each job. There was not a great deal of financial stability, which meant disappointment at Christmas.
“We didn’t have anything, really,” said Gibson. “I understood at a young age that Christmas was going to be difficult. My friends would be outside playing with their gifts and it was just another day for me. No gifts or anything. I’ll always remember that feeling and I would never wish that on anyone else. It was rough.”
A couple decades later and Gibson, thanks to the game of basketball, no longer personally faces those kinds of adversities. Rather, it’s because of them that he chooses to make a difference for a family that does.
“I had great parents and they instilled a lot of great things in me,” said Gibson. “They taught me to help others and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
To wit, for the second consecutive year, Gibson worked with the Bulls and Northwestern Settlement to “adopt-a-family” for the holidays.
“It’s such an important time of year,” said Gibson. “There are a lot of families struggling to get gifts for their kids and I want to help in any way that I can. If that means putting a smile on the faces of a family or taking the burden off of their back, it’s important. I was in that position growing up and I didn’t really have a lot of toys as a kid. Now, I’m in a position to help others.”
The family selected for Gibson includes a father who is currently unemployed, a mother who works at discount department store and three children. A wish list was provided for each family member and Gibson personally went out to do the shopping.
As he did, he recalled his experience last year, when it was arranged for him and members of the Bulls office to fill the family’s home with holiday decorations and numerous gifts while they were away. When they returned, it was a moment he’ll never forget.
“The look on the family’s face when they came in the door and saw all the toys and improvements to the house said it all,” recalled Gibson. “To see the parents almost come to tears, it was a powerful moment.
“To be able to reach out and touch an individual family is huge,” said Gibson as to why he wanted to do it again this year. “It’s about spreading joy. It’s good karma.”
Though Gibson’s life has changed, he’ll always have his roots. So despite being a well-paid NBA player, he’s determined to take some of the bad memories he has from his youth and turn them into positives. All of this was on his mind as he went from aisle to aisle and loaded up shopping cart after shopping cart.
“I don’t have kids. But one day when I do, I’m going to spoil them,” said Gibson. “Every aisle, there are so many great things that you know would make a kid’s day. Looking at their list to see what they like, whether it’s a toy or something that will help them down the road, it’s important to get them what they want but everything that I would want too.
“I don’t want to leave any doubt that when they open their presents, the kids will be wowed and their parents will be stress-free,” added Gibson. “I remember what it’s like as a kid this time of year. You’re constantly in your parent’s ear, ‘Mom, I want this!’ or ‘Dad, I want that! I can’t wait until Christmas when Santa drops some presents off...’ I don’t want them to feel how I felt growing up. That’s the main thing.”
Though Gibson thoroughly enjoyed his first adopt-a-family experience, he desired to change the format slightly this year. Rather than visit the family’s home, he invited them to dinner at a downtown Chicago restaurant. There, in a private room, Gibson would be able to spend time with the family to get to know them and make more of a personal connection.
The room itself was perfect—low lighting so you couldn’t miss the Christmas tree in the corner, which was surrounded by countless wrapped gifts and a table beautifully set for eight.
Gibson waited for the family, which had no idea who or what to expect. When they arrived, Stormy, the mother, was immediately hit with emotion. Kenneth, the father, was equally blown away as he saw one of his favorite players standing before him. As for the kids—seven-year old Skyla, five-year old Tyler and one-year old Kayla—their heads were spinning as they took the scene in.
“It was a great feeling, man,” said Gibson. “I like opening gifts so I knew they’d enjoy it. The kids were a little timid at first but then they were eager to rip open the presents and that’s the best part. To look at them going crazy with smiles on their faces was just great. The baby, Kayla, loves the Elmo. As soon as she opened it up she was drawn to it. The little boy, Tyler, he’s a firecracker. He loves the Iron Man that I got him. Then Skyla is a little princess, we got some of that stuff for her and she’s ready to ride her new bike. It’s been fun.”
“Wonderful. Amazing. Definitely overwhelming at first,” said Stormy of the surprise. “The kids didn’t know what to think at first but it didn’t take them long to get comfortable and warm up to Taj. He seems like a down to earth person and he’s really good with the kids. We are just totally grateful for him and the gifts he’s given our family. I couldn’t be more excited and I don’t know what to say. I’m at a loss for words.”
Like Gibson many years ago, making ends meet has been tough for the family and they were uncertain how much they’d be able to celebrate the holidays.
“Our family has been going through some struggles lately with Kenneth losing his job. We’ve got a new addition to our family and for now, it’s just me working,” explained Stormy.
“When we heard we might be involved in this program, they didn’t give us many details. So it has been the ultimate surprise,” Stormy continued. “I’m still in shock. This is one of the best Christmases our family has ever had. I know the kids are happy and that makes me happy. We didn’t realize it was going to be only our family. So for it to be such an intimate setting is amazing.”
After spending a few hours opening presents, sharing a meal and simply getting to know each other, it was clear Gibson could relate with his guests. Their situation isn’t that different than his own back in Brooklyn. But he likes their chances and believes they have what it takes to work their way through the challenges.
“They’ve got a strong family bond and they’re very close-knit,” observed Gibson. “That’s very important and exactly what you need, not only in the black community but across America. Strong families stick together through the hardship. For me to help out during this time of year is a blessing.”
“Life isn’t always easy,” acknowledged Stormy. “Things get hard. But right now, I’m overjoyed. I’m excited for my babies. Even last Christmas, it was a struggle with the new baby. I’m just excited and very thankful.”
Two of Gibson’s teammates, Mike Dunleavy and Nazr Mohammed are also working with Northwestern Settlement to adopt families this holiday season. For more information on how you can get involved, visit nush.org.