Taj Gibson can't believe it either.

On Friday night, the fourth-year Bulls forward will enter Barclays Center with his teammates, perhaps as the starting power forward if Carlos Boozer's sore right hamstring sidelines him again.

The sparkling new arena, home to the Brooklyn Nets, is right down the street from the Fort Greene housing projects where Gibson once lived and where he and his boyhood friends often played pickup basketball.

That both the Nets and Gibson have arrived at this point makes Gibson shake his head and smile.

"It's a crazy, surreal feeling," he said, sitting in front of his locker in the visitors' locker room at the Bradley Center late Wednesday in Milwaukee. "That area used to be dirty and griminess around there, drug dealers and gangs and stuff. Now it's clean. The area is beautiful. It has created a lot of jobs for Brooklyn."

With hard work and perseverance, Gibson created his job long ago. He attended three high schools, not including a brief stint in which he was home schooled, before landing at USC with then-coach Tim Floyd.

He even stopped playing basketball for a spell in high school to help support his family, working 12-hour days for a moving company.

Not all late first-round picks last in the NBA. But after signing a four-year, $33 million extension with incentives before this season, the 26th pick in the 2009 draft can look back at those 12-hour days of labor with nostalgia.

"Every journey to the NBA is different," Gibson said. "Mine is one of the long shots. To see I'm here and playing in my hometown city is crazy."