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Taj Gibson downplays signature dunk over Heat's Dwyane Wade

Taj Gibsgained some fame after his emphatic slam over Dwyane Wade Game 1 Eastern Conference finals last season. | Nam

Taj Gibson gained some fame after his emphatic slam over Dwyane Wade in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals last season. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: January 14, 2012 8:18AM



It was a snapshot, a few frozen seconds in a life that has lasted 26 years, yet not a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask Taj Gibson about his resounding dunk over Dwyane Wade in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals last season.

It has become the third-year forward’s signature, even if he doesn’t want it to be.

‘‘It’s crazy how one play can overshadow everything you did in the playoffs and throughout the year to help your team win,” he said. “I brush it off. I know there’s a lot more ahead. I just have to continue to work on my game, work harder and put that in the back of my mind. That was one play in the playoffs. I have to move forward.”

General manager Gar Forman talked repeatedly about how much he likes the character and chemistry that has developed on this Bulls team. You don’t have to spend a lot of time around the Berto Center to understand why. This is a selfless group committed to accomplishing what it failed to do against the Miami Heat.

Take Gibson, for example. Instead of basking in his new-found fame, he’s brushing it off. He hasn’t let the hundreds of thousands of YouTube views go to his head. He’s not demanding a bigger role. His goal this season isn’t another poster-worthy dunk on another future Hall of Famer. Instead, he wants to make the league’s All-Defensive team.

“I have a patient game,” he said. “I like to play like [ex-Bull] Kurt Thomas, just watch the game, understand my role and take my time. I want to be a lock-down defender. I just want to play with a lot more confidence and be able to help my team at multiple positions.”

Gibson had a solid second season with the Bulls in 2010-11, averaging 7.1 points and 5.7 rebounds while providing his usual solid defense, and that was after recovering from painful plantar fasciitis in both feet during the offseason. He admits he wasn’t in very good shape at this time last year because he was limited to mostly shooting during the summer.

It makes you wonder what he might accomplish with a productive offseason behind him.

“[Gibson] started off slowly, and then I thought he had a terrific season for us,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “This year, he’s in much better shape. We’re encouraged by that. There’s not much he can’t do out there. Obviously, an excellent defensive player who can guard threes, fours and fives, even some twos. He’s got great feet. He can rebound and block shots. Offensively, he’s gaining a lot of confidence. His post game is solid, and he’s an excellent spot-up shooter from 17 feet.

“The big thing was to continue to develop his overall game. His versatility and the fact that he can do a little bit of everything, you can take advantage of that. Some older guys, he can face up and take them off the dribble. He’s got the post-up game, the pick-and-pop game, he can put it on the floor a little bit and he’s an excellent athlete.

“I want him to run the floor a little bit more and try to get some easy baskets, too. He can outrun people.”

His emphatic dunk over Wade in the second quarter of Game 1 announced that the long-awaited Eastern Conference matchup between the Bulls and Heat was on. People frequently ask him if that play is the highlight of his career. Not even close. He said what the Bulls accomplished as a team is more important than anything he did as an individual.

Besides, he knows it’s only a matter of time before someone returns the favor.

“This league will humble you fast,” he said. “When you make a great play, put it in the back of your mind because after the next play, you might be embarrassed.”

His blue-collar upbringing helps him remain grounded. His father still works as a carpenter in Brooklyn, N.Y. Taj has tried to convince him to retire, but his dad refuses.

“You have to have that hunger,” he said. “A lot of guys tend to come into the NBA and lose the hunger. You’ve always got to have that edge. Look at Derrick Rose. He always has that edge. He always has that hunger. That’s what you have to have to be great.”

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