BROOKLYN — Chicago Bulls player Taj Gibson remembered his nephew's love of superheroes.
"The main thing I can always remember is he'd say, 'I'm Superman, pick me up,'" the 6-foot-9 forward recalled.
The basketball star, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and more than 1,500 others, including relatives, friends and East New York residents, packed St. Paul Community Baptist Church Friday for the funeral of 6-year-old Prince Joshua "P.J." Avitto, who was the stabbed to death Sunday in an apartment elevator.
“He was the future of our family," Gibson said. "It’s hard."
The boy's dad, Nicholas Avitto, remembered his son as a practical joker who always wore a bright smile and loved to play pranks on his teachers at Achievement First Aspire Charter School, located just a few blocks from his house.
“My greatest joy and pleasure was my son,” Nicholas Avitto said, dressed in all black with a red scarf around his neck. “That was my baby and my backbone. But I’m gonna be strong still for my baby.”
Uncle Scott Avitto, dressed in all white, walked slowly to the podium Friday, his 53rd birthday, and paused before addressing the crowd.
“He’s always gonna be my Superman,” he said. “I deeply miss him. I love you, I love you.”
Outside the church service, Gibson recalled that P.J. would ask him about basketball and have fun at family barbecues.
"It's going to be hard. It's going to real hard not having that young face running around the barbecues, saying, 'Pick me up.' It really hits home," he said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Rev. Al Sharpton also paid their respects to P.J. as he lay in a white casket dressed in an all-white suit with a pin on his lapel in tribute to his friend Mikayla Capers, the 7-year-old girl who miraculously survived the Sunday stabbing.
Ex-con Daniel St. Hubert, 27, was charged with the boy's murder and the attempted murder of Capers, who was with him when he was attacked. St. Hubert is also thought be responsible for the stabbing death of nursing student Tanaya Copeland, as well as a knife attack on a homeless man in Chelsea.
As sobs echoed through the church and mourners wiped away tears, the Rev. David K. Brawley reminded shattered loved ones to rely on their faith as they grieve. He added that P.J. left an imprint during his six years that will never be erased.
“We should never forget what happened to Prince Joshua,” he said. “But we will get through it. Because of you, things are going to change.”