The great thing about the NBA is that, although all 400-plus athletes play the same sport, everyone’s story is totally different. Eighteen-year-old superstars practically from birth compete against 40-year-old Tim Duncan. A German trailblazer is still getting buckets in Dallas against players twice as athletic. This league has players from all over the world, who have played in all sorts of leagues, and who all have carved their own path to the top of the basketball world.
And then there’s Jonathan Gibson.
The 28-year-old guard is one of the oldest players at this year’s Summer League in Las Vegas. He has no NBA experience on record, outside of 10 Summer League appearances in 2012 and six minutes — yes, six minutes — in 2014’s Summer League. He played four years at New Mexico State and never scored more than 17.5 points per game. He’s played overseas since 2011, making stops in Turkey, Israel, Italy, and China along the way.
But something, somewhere, clicked. Last season with Qingdao in the CBA, he scored a whopping 42 points per game.
An NBA basketball player’s career trajectory usually begins rising exponentially around the time he’s 14 or 15 years old, and it reaches stratospheric levels around the time he’s 17 or 18. That’s when we knew LeBron James was going to be great. That’s when we saw Ben Simmons highlight reels, and he’s carried that success over to Las Vegas this summer. Kevin Durant won a scoring title at 21. NBA players, by and large, seem to be destined more than self-made.
But when was the first time you heard Jonathan Gibson’s name?
The relatively anonymous alum of Trabzonspor, Enel Brindisi, and Zhejiang Guangsha is 10th in scoring in Vegas, averaging 20.0 points per game to lead the Mavericks. He’s got a sweet shot, and he can flat-out score. His 29.7 PER ranks ninth among all players, and his sizzling 65.2 effective field goal percentage has been enough to raise the eyebrows of the biggest shark of them all — Mavs owner Mark Cuban, who on the broadcast yesterday said he intends to sign Gibson to a deal to bring him to training camp. Then, during the game, it was reported Gibson had agreed to terms with the Mavericks. That news was confirmed on Friday.
Gibson, at 28, who earlier in the tournament called this the biggest opportunity of his life, will finally, at long last, reach an NBA training camp. It shouldn’t take a basketball superfan to appreciate just how tremendous this story is.
“It’s been a long, long journey,” Gibson told Mavs.com after Wednesday’s win against Milwaukee. “What is this, my sixth year up? It’s been a long six years, a lot of work put in. Just waiting for my opportunity and always staying prepared.
“I had to take advantage 100 percent. I worked real hard for this, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to come out here and play, and show what I can do.”
Gibson truly did have to take advantage. He’s had to scratch and claw for every opportunity. At a time when there is more money in the NBA than ever before, the 28-year-old Gibson has had to earn every last dollar he’s made in his career. NBA life is glamorous, to be certain, but life overseas does not always fall into that same category. He has taken a humble man’s journey in a sport full of massive egos. Basketball has taken him across the entire world, sure, but he’s also had to play basketball exceptionally well across the entire planet just so he can return home.
Just because he reached an agreement does not mean he will make the final 15-man roster, of course. Dallas has plenty of guards on the roster already (including the newly re-signed Deron Williams) but if Gibson can score in training camp the way he has in Las Vegas, he’s going to make the Mavericks brain trust think long and hard. You simply can’t teach the scoring ability and confidence Gibson has discovered and perfected along the way on his winding path. It takes an insatiable hunger and bulletproof belief in oneself, after all, to navigate Turkey, Italy, and China. Gibson has done that — the payoff has just taken a little while longer than it has for some other players in this league.
He’ll have at least one more game to continue proving himself to the Mavericks and to his peers before his time in Las Vegas ends. After that, he’ll join Dallas in training camp this fall. That will be, as plenty of others have already been throughout his career, the biggest opportunity of his life.
After all he’s done, and after everywhere he’s been, I don’t think the pressure, the lights, the stage, and the moment will intimidate him one bit.
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