It’s well past midnight, and newly acquired Brooklyn Nets guard D’Angelo Russell landed in New York after being traded by the Los Angeles Lakers. One of his first text messages he sends after he turns his phone off airplane mode is to Chris Brickley.
On this particular day, Brickley just got home after eight workout sessions with numerous NBA players ranging from the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Getting back to his house, he dropped his stuff off, ate a quick meal and hopped in the shower. As he was laying in bed, he got the text from Russell saying he wanted to shoot. Brickley’s response was “I’m there.”
Minutes later, the two met at the Brooklyn Nets practice facility.
The approximate time of the workout is 2:09 AM, and the two begin honing in on what Russell felt he needed to improve upon. They have the gym to themselves, as Brickley runs through a set of workouts designated for the former number two overall pick.
“I help players help themselves,” Brickley told DIME. “I build a relationship with them and study their craft. I watch film on each guy and I ask them what they want to get better at, what they don’t want to do, what their teams want them to do.”
A former Louisville walk-on player, Brickley was a Top 100 high school player in the country before landing at Northeastern University. Playing behind J.J. Barea at the time, Brickley got to see a professional in the making, and worked with Rick Pitino’s son, Richard, who was also at Northeastern.
Brickley knew pretty early on in that he wasn’t going to be an NBA superstar, but it was Richard who enticed Brickley to move onto his father’s team, Louisville. At that point, Brickley would decide to transfer to Louisville to specifically learn from one of the best: Rick Pitino.
Picking the brain power and vast knowledge of Pitino, Brickley changed the trajectory of his goals from playing to becoming a coach. He spent time with Pitino talking and discussing game tapes, film sessions, strategy and more. At the age of 25, Brickley was named an assistant at Farleigh Dickerson University in New Jersey, making him one of the youngest assistants in the country. He moved up the ranks, going to a few other schools before landing with the New York Knicks as a trainer there. As fate would have it, Pitino himself recommended Brickley for the position.
“You knew Chris Brickley wanted to be a coach,” Pitino said of his former walk-on. “He was a basketball junkie and wanted to learn the game. If you believe in someone, I knew he could do a really good job. I’m not one that makes phone calls and recommends people that I don’t think would impact the franchise.”
Working with J.R. Smith and his brother vaulted him into the opportunity with the Knicks and the success compounded from there. Brickley formed a bond with many players in the Knicks organization and beyond, but later built a relationship that would push his career even further.
“Once I got the Knicks job, me and Melo became real close,” Brickley said.
Carmelo Anthony was a newly acquired superstar in the Mecca of basketball, yet Brickley was tasked with being the guy to train him. Brickley watched every single game of Anthony’s career and learned every move, ever hitch, and every mannerism Melo had in his game. The two spent a lot of time together, which made it easier to be open and honest about the craft.
“I’ll show him a move,” Brickley said, “and he’ll say ‘no, I don’t do that,’ and I’ll bring up the tape from 2004 and say ‘no, in 2004, you did this!’ It’s the great part about our relationship, about relationships with all the players I work with. You have to be constructive sometimes and tell them things they may not want to hear. We just understand each other and there’s that level of trust there.”
Brickley left the Knicks this past season and continued to train guys one-on-one. Brickley now trains his guys at Life Time Athletic at Sky in Manhattan. Anthony believed so much in what Brickley was about, they’d post video clips of his workouts and share it with the world.
Aside from Anthony, Brickley has trained players like Kevin Durant, Enes Kanter, Tim Hardaway Jr., Joel Embiid, and many others. He compiles video clips on whatever the players are looking for, sits down and really digests the film, and then they go out and work on it.
If a player wants to change his shot, there’s a process for that. If a player wants to work on his lateral quickness and handles, Brickley has drills to push them further. But where Brickley differentiates himself is the respect level for each player he has. Similar to a sibling or family member, he’s not afraid to be honest or harsh with guys who are making a wealthy living playing basketball. Elite athletes aren’t always used to that sort of bluntness, and they all respond differently.
“He’s passionate, innovative and dedicated to his craft,” C.J. McCollum told DIME. “He loves the game and wants to be great. He’s truly invested in the players [he trains].”
Known for his 60 second video clips of workouts on instagram and twitter, Brickley says there’s 80-plus minutes of other footage that isn’t shown during the entirety of one workout. The videos obviously display the good, but it gives you a small glimpse into what they’re working on.
Every NBA player understands that everyone around them has an agenda. However, Brickley’s agenda is helping the players get better. He watches basketball constantly when he’s not training players. From as early as 2 a.m. to as late as midnight the next day, Brickley is getting a combination of last minute calls or scheduled workouts in.
Many could claim to have staying power when it comes to training high-profile NBA players, but Brickley possesses that mix of being critical, being patient and being constructive that comes from his time as a coach. It’s no surprise he’s turning into the go-to guy for NBA players who want to get better.