- Via Chris Brickley
Chris Brickley made connections in college basketball that led to a job with the Knicks. During his time with the Knicks, he befriended Carmelo Anthony and became his go-to trainer Through intensive work, Brickley now works out dozens of NBA players, including stars like Kevin Durant and C.J. McCollum.
Chris Brickley is used to odd and sometimes demanding requests from NBA players, but one in particular from veteran point guard Brandon Jennings caught him off-guard this summer.
Brickley was in Los Angeles working out a handful of NBA stars when Jennings texted Brickley and asked if he would accompany him to to a court he built in Compton for a 10 p.m. workout.
“I’m like, ‘Compton? You wanna do this workout at 10 at night in Compton?'” Brickley recalled.
“And he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ve been meaning to go back to my court. It’s been eight years I’ve been in the NBA, and I’ve never really had a chance to go back.'”
So, Brickley and Jennings drove to Compton to Jennings’ court and held a public workout at 10 p.m. as a crowd gathered and watched. “That was really fun … really cool environment,” Brickley said.
Such is life for Brickley, a 31-year-old trainer who’s becoming a go-to resource for NBA players of all skill levels, experience, and popularity. He’s gotten 2 a.m. phone calls and texts from Carmelo Anthony and D’Angelo Russell asking him to work out because they can’t sleep – they’re too excited for the season. Brickley will never turn them down.
“My whole life I dreamed of being where I’m at,” Brickley said. “At this point, I’ll do anything I can to help these guys help themselves.”
‘He’s different than other coaches’
In a luxury gym in New York City in early August, Oklahoma City Thunder big man Enes Kanter spins and misses a wide-open, left-handed layup and screams in frustration.
Brickley quickly reassures him – he missed the shot but the footwork was perfect. It was a good rep. Kanter, drenched in sweat, goes back to work.
Later on, after completing a circuit involving layups, mid-range jump shots, and pull-up threes with nary a miss, Brickley doesn’t let Kanter bask in the glory or catch a breath. They move to the right side of the floor to repeat the same drill.
“He’s different than other coaches,” Kanter said after the workout, adding, “He actually spends time and really cares about how the players feel. Lots of the coaches in the NBA, in the summer time, they just wanna get the work done as soon as possible so they can go the beach and hang out. But him, he actually spends time on the player.”
After the workout is complete, Kanter cools down and Brickley picks up his phone and immediately begins returning text messages. A “big” player – he won’t reveal who – has reached out to him. His client list this summer alone includes Anthony, Jennings, Kanter, Kevin Durant, C.J. McCollum, Tim Hardaway Jr., Joel Embiid, Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith, and more. He’s used to these texts, but nonetheless thrilled with how his career has grown.
For Brickley, the seeds of his career were planted with a college transfer. Brickley, a New Hampshire native, became friends with Richard Pitino, son of NBA and college coach Rick Pitino, while on the Northeastern University basketball team. Richard was eventually hired by his father to coach at Louisville and convinced Brickley to transfer.
Brickley played just 31 total minutes in two season at Louisville. He knew he wouldn’t make the NBA, but used the opportunity to learn from Rick. After graduating, Brickley got a job at Ole Miss, with the help of Pitino, then was later hired by Fairleigh Dickinson, becoming the youngest Division I assistant coach in the country.
While working at Fairleigh Dickinson, Brickley re-connected with Chris Smith, a former Louisville teammate and brother of then-New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith. As Brickley worked out with the Smiths, he gained more connections within the Knicks, working out more and more players at the Knicks’ practice facilities. Eventually, the Knicks hired him.
As quickly as Brickley got into the NBA, however, his job appeared to be in jeopardy when the Knicks hired Phil Jackson as president of basketball operations in 2014. Brickley recalled the entire coaching staff being fired as he was preparing for an interview in Jackson’s office.
“I’m thinking I’m gonna go in there, I’m gonna meet with him, I’m done,” Brickley said. “So I go in, I’m super nervous, super scared. It’s Phil Jackson. I don’t even know the guy. I come in sit down in his office and he said, ‘I’m gonna ask you three questions.”
Jackson proceeded to ask Brickley about Steve Nash’s athleticism, the proper footwork leading into a jumper, and five characteristics of an athlete. Brickley simply went with his gut and answered the questions as best he could.
“I had my interview and it went well, and he’s like, ‘I’ll see you at pre-draft workouts in two days,'” Brickley said.
“I was so excited, so happy, and at that point, I knew I was gonna stay on.”
A helpful friendship
- Via Chris Brickley
In Brickley’s time with the Knicks, he grew particularly close to Carmelo Anthony. According to Brickley, their friendship grew when Brickley would give Anthony honest feedback after games.
“I wasn’t sure how he’d handle it, but after games I’d be like, ‘Dude you can play harder than that!'” Brickley said. “I gave him constructive criticism … He ended up respecting me because of that.”
Through Anthony, Brickley’s name began making the rounds in the NBA. Players would reach out to Anthony asking who he was working out with and Anthony would direct them to Brickley. His client list swelled, with players like Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, C.J. McCollum, and more asking him to conduct workouts.
Brickley makes a commitment to every player he works out. He watches every one of their offensive possessions from the year before to get a better understanding of their games. He’ll also ask players what they think they need to improve upon and reach out to their teams to ask what they think the players should be working on.
“Five or six hours, nothing crazy,” Brickley said of his film sessions. “I’ll sacrifice that over my sleep. When I was younger, I would do anything to get one NBA guy.”
As more and more players began asking Brickley to work them out, he made a big choice – he was going to leave the Knicks. Brickley said his family questioned the decision, but he felt the timing was right to try things on his own.
It’s paid off. Brickley sometimes gets as many as 10 NBA players texting him per week asking to work out. Players are appreciative of the effort Brickley puts into his workouts.
“He texts me in the middle of the day, like, ‘Hey man, who you wanna play like? Who was your favorite player growing up?'” Kanter said. “And I’ll say like, Hakeem Olajuwon. And so he goes on YouTube and watches his workouts, his games, how he does it. Then we come the next day and we do the workout.”
Still, Brickley remains loyal to Anthony when his schedule is open. This summer he’s already traveled with Anthony to Miami and Baltimore to do workouts. As trade rumors swirl around Anthony this offseason, Brickley said the two continue to work as if nothing is going on.
“Sometimes he’ll come into the workout, and I’ll be like, ‘I wonder if he picked up the paper today,'” Brickley said. However, according to Brickley, Anthony tunes out the media. “He just remains focused and we never really talk about the team situation.”
Brickley has a plan when the NBA season begins and players he would otherwise be working out return to their teams and respective training staffs. He recently created The Academy with Mark Starkey, former brand director of North American Basketball with Nike. The two plan to put on training camps for kids and elite prospects around the country. Additionally, Brickley has been contacted by Chinese basketball teams and plans to make a few trips during the season to host some workouts.
Brickley said he knows one day his training business will slow down, and when it does, he’ll keep his eyes on a possible return to the NBA. But right now, he doesn’t necessarily need the NBA. In fact, much of the NBA is coming to him to get better.