By Joe Mason
Sports have always been a huge part of Mike Gibson’s life.
The 1978 Father Judge High School grad got his start playing for the Mayfair Red Devils.
After playing for the Crusaders’ freshman team, Gibson went on to play CYO basketball at St. Bernard’s. Then, after graduating, he would spend time coaching soccer and basketball, and he’s now the public address announcer for the Judge football and basketball teams.
Gibson loves sports. He loves being around them, he loves playing them, watching them and now he’s found a new love — sharing sports with others.
It started after Gibson was in Cottman Beverages, shortly after the store had a promotion that included a pair of basketballs. The store was finished with the balls, so they offered them to Gibson.
“They were low on air, but I figured I could play with them,” the Tacony resident said. “They gave me the two balls, so I had them in my trunk, and they were in there for a while, I didn’t use them, but I thought I would get a chance.”
What he did with them is better than any alley-oop or three-point shot. What he did was put them to great use by putting them in the hands of kids who needed them.
Gibson, who works as a processor of legal documents, spends a lot of time driving around the city, and while he’s on his routes, a lot of times he’ll see kids shooting hoops.
He always sees passion.
He doesn’t always see great equipment.
“I was driving in West Philadelphia and I saw these kids playing on a makeshift hoop and they were using a beachball,” Gibson said. “I was driving by, so I decided to give the kids one of the balls.
“I gave them the ball, and the smile on their face was so great. I started to drive away and I saw their mom come out and start to pump it up. I came back and asked her if I could take a picture of them.”
It didn’t take long for Gibson to realize he wanted to experience this again and again.
“I was like a teenager, I kept looking down at my phone and I just kept looking at their smile,” Gibson said. “It wasn’t much, it was a ball, but I remember how much I liked playing, and it felt good. I kept looking at my phone and the more I looked at it, the more I wanted to keep doing it.”
That’s where the 6th Man Project was born.
Since handing that ball out, Gibson has begun doing the same for children across Philadelphia.
His job has him on the road all over the city, and when he sees kids in need of a new ball, he pulls over and hands one over.
It’s his baby, and he is making a difference, but since he began the project, he’s gotten a lot of help.
Ryan Nase, who runs the Greg Hennigar Foundation, donated 10 balls after hearing about the project, and recently added another six.
He also hooked up with Lloyd Sixsmith Sporting Goods on Frankford Avenue, which sells indoor/outdoor balls to people buying them for the project for $15.
“So many people will just call and buy balls,” Gibson said. “Then I’ll go over every week or every two weeks, pick them up and drop them off. That helps so much because now people don’t have to buy them, mail them to a P.O. Box and I don’t have to go get them. Now they just call it in, pay the store, which gives us a very good discount, and I just pick them up.”
Gibson gave out his first ball in late November. Since then, he has been John Stockton, handing out over 300 assists.
He’s delivered some to schools, he’s given some to recreation centers, but many of them are a result of him driving by a schoolyard and spotting a group of kids playing with an inadequate ball.
“Everyone has been amazing,” Gibson said. “(The Northeast Suburban Athletic Conference) had 30 or 40 balls that were used, but were in great shape. They donated them to us. It was great. I wanted to do this, but I didn’t think it would take off the way it has. People really enjoy helping other people.”
Gibson has dished out 300 balls, but every time he does it, he gets the same feeling he did when he was driving away from the West Philadelphia home.
“These kids don’t have much, and when you give them a ball, you see their faces light up,” Gibson said. “It feels so good. Sports are something that almost every kid loves. And when you can give a kid a new ball, it might not be much, but it’s everything to them. And it feels so good to see them have fun with it.”
While Gibson enjoys playing point guard and distributing the ball, he would love it if his foundation was no longer necessary and every child had a brand new ball to play with.
“Unfortunately, there’s always a kid who needs a ball, no matter how many you give out, there’s always another one who needs one,” Gibson said. “I’m happy that I’m able to keep doing this and give kids a ball. The more we give out, the happier I’ll be.”
If you’d like to contribute to the 6th Man Project, visit the Facebook page. ••