There are 24 hours in a day — and Chris Brickley seems to dedicate every one to his business.
Since leaving his player development role with the New York Knicks in 2017, Brickley has built a reputation as one of the most sought-after trainers in basketball. He and his company — Black Ops Basketball — have worked with many of the biggest names in the NBA, including Carmelo Anthony, Donovan Mitchell, and James Harden.
After training some huge names in music — including hip-hop superstar J. Cole — Brickley began his own hip-hop career. Featuring Lil Durk, “Ikea Rug” is the first single from Brickley’s debut album “Welcome to the Grind,” which is scheduled to drop later this year.
Brickley sat down with Front Office Sports to talk about the keys to building his brand, his partnership with BODYARMOR, the reason people want to train with him, and his music.
How did you go from training guys here and there to creating a full-on business with Black Ops Basketball?
I was a player at Louisville, and then I got into coaching. That was my first passion. I started at Ole Miss, then I was the youngest Division I assistant at Fairleigh Dickinson, then I was the director of player development with the Knicks. Coaching and training are kind of similar, so when I was with the Knicks, there was a lot of training, a lot of traveling with the players in the offseason.
Then in-season, I would be with the team in practice, and I just fell in love with developing guys. And a big thanks to Carmelo [Anthony] for allowing me to kind of be his guy during those Knicks years. I really fell in love with that whole process. So I decided to leave the Knicks and start my own business, which was training — very similar to what I was doing as a coach.
What about your training style makes these big names in basketball and music want to work with you?
There’s no magic or anything special. It’s just studying the game and being a genuine person, and really understanding what these players are trying to improve on. It’s based on the situation. It’s figuring out what motivates them, I guess. I’ve been super-blessed to have a lot of these players’ trust in me, and I’m taking advantage of it.
What is the common denominator of your advice to athletes?
That’s a tough question because each guy is different. Whatever I tell Donovan Mitchell is completely different than what I tell James Harden. So I guess it’s just player-by-player. At the end of the day, what are you looking to get better at? That’s kind of how you figure out the relationship.
So you tailor the training once you’ve made your initial evaluation?
Exactly. They’ll have their thoughts, I’ll have what I think, then the team will have what they think. And then we collectively come together and figure out what’s best for the player.
How early did you realize that you had a business?
I left the Knicks in 2017. Maybe after that first summer, you know — I had a really good summer. I had a whole bunch of NBA guys come in, did the Black Ops runs. We had some legendary runs that first summer — LeBron vs. KD two weeks after they played in the Finals versus each other. Stuff like that. So I thought, “OK, I’ve got something. I’m gonna keep going.”
Trainers aren’t generally public figures. What about your brand has made you so popular?
I’ve always been into music since I was a little kid. I’ve always been into hip-hop, always been into fashion. If you were to read my high school yearbook, my favorites would be fashion and music. So this is stuff that’s really, genuinely me. So I’m being myself and expressing it more. Everything I’m putting out there has been “me” for as long as I can remember.
Your involvement with NBA players makes sense, but how did you get involved with hip-hop artists?
Over the years — over the summers working with these NBA guys. A lot of artists will be fans of some of them, and a lot of them are fans of these artists. So they’ll be around, they’ll be in the gym, they’ll come out to dinner. And just through that, I built relationships with them.
The first person, though? Maybe Summer 2015, I was with Melo in L.A. We’re leaving the gym, and Chris Brown was walking in. He said what’s up to Melo. He was like, “Oh, you’re Melo’s trainer, we should get a workout in one day.” And when we were out in L.A., we got in a workout.
I became very close with Chris Brown. That was at a time when Chris was huge and had a very big influence on music. I think through that relationship I got a whole bunch of other relationships in music. So like how Melo helped me with training, I would say Chris Brown kind of helped me with the relationships in music.
Making a hip-hop album is a pretty big step. What made you decide to go for it?
I’m someone that needs to be doing something, or I feel like I’m falling behind. So in the pandemic, I was stuck in my apartment, and I was just like, “Man, I need to do something.” And, I was like, “I have all these relationships with these artists, might as well.” So I asked them for some songs and put together a project that we can listen to in the gym, someone can listen to when they’re working out, or when they’re living their life.
How do you have time for all of this? What’s a typical day look like for you?
I’m not just saying this for ad purposes, but I really do wake up and drink a BODYARMOR EDGE. It’s how I start my day, it gives me a boost. Then I watch a whole bunch of film and contact players, whether they’re Grassroots kids, high school kids, college guys, or NBA guys. And my whole day will be that.
I mix that in with talking to my manager, Alex — we’ll talk about different partnerships that I have like BODYARMOR, Wilson, Puma, Therabody. And then once night comes, I watch the games. Then usually once the games are done, late night — you’re probably sleeping — that’s when I start with the music stuff. I always make sure that the basketball and the business comes first, then I do the music stuff late at night. It worked because that’s when most of these musicians like to work.
You mentioned Wilson — they made a signature basketball for you.
Yeah, that was super-exciting. When I was a little kid, I played with Wilson basketballs, so to have my own signature line — and it sold out — that was really cool. Special stuff coming up in the future with Wilson.
You appear as a trainer and your gym appears as a location in NBA 2K. How did that come about?
It started off as if you had to go through some of my shooting drills. So you can create a player, and then you have to work out with me to learn how to shoot. And that evolved into Brickley’s Gym in NBA 2K. So people from all over the world who play NBA 2K literally go into my gym, which is a super-blessing.
Typically, sports drink companies partner with professional athletes. BODYARMOR has some trainers in their arsenal, but what kind of unique perspective do you bring to the partnership?
It made so much sense. James [Harden], Donovan [Mitchell], Trae [Young], they all rep BODYARMOR, and they’re all guys that I’ve worked with. So that was a really positive thing. The brand — especially in the last few years — they’re making huge noise in the sports world. I like to think that I’m doing the same as a trainer. Their goal is to be the No. 1 sports drink, and my goal is always to be the No. 1 trainer. So a lot of our goals go hand-in-hand. It’s been a great partnership.
Why do you think all these brands want to work with you?
I’m genuine, I’m myself. I think I’m relatable. I think that’s a big thing. There’s a lot of people out there that love the game of basketball and they couldn’t make the NBA. So I’m showing that you can still have a journey and not be an NBA player. You can be a trainer and still live a really cool life. So I think I’m relatable to a lot of people, and I think the brands see that.