Before Chris Brickley trained the New York Knicks, ran streetwear pop-ups at Fashion Week, or earned half-a-million followers on Instagram, he ran on the treadmill. He ran on his old treadmill in Mississippi every single day, and as his eyes stung with sweat, he’d dream of something bigger.
He saw himself walking in Brooklyn, people stopping him, nodding at him, saying his name. Fast forward to 2019, and as he walks into Dyckman Park, kids ask to take his picture.
“I’m big with the whole manifesting thing,” he says, and how could he not be? His dreams came true, but he’s still putting the magic to work. Once again, he’s doing it on his own as a solo basketball trainer — but now, thanks to viral videos of everyone from Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant to Chris Brown and Quavo shooting hoops in his gym, he’s got the power of social media as leverage.
“Don’t get it twisted,” Brickley says. “When I left the Knicks, I didn’t have much money in my bank account. There were a lot of family members that were like, “You’re the Director of Player Development for an NBA team. You’re leaving to do what?’”
In 2017, he left the Knicks to focus on work as a personal trainer for NBA athletes as well as younger up-and-comers with their eyes on NBA fame. It’s a lucrative way to be your own boss, and he can focus on other endeavors, like growing his burgeoning streetwear brand Color Blind. His success is built on a tireless work ethic — he’s been known to answer training calls at 2:00 in the morning — but his professional independence is in part owed to the connections he’s made in the music industry and the social media fame his viral videos have afforded.
His ties to music began back when he worked with the Knicks. Shooting guard J.R. Smith took Brickley and Houston Rockets point guard James Harden to a pool party. Chris Brown ended up being a fellow guest. Brickley grew up listening to Brown’s music, but he wasn’t too star-struck to walk up to the “Run It!” singer and offer a basketball workout.
“I didn’t hear from him, but a week later he was in New York and he texted me,” Brickley remembers. “We went to Terminal 23, and from that day on, we became extremely close for a number of years. That was like my best friend.”
Brown often posted videos of his workouts with Brickley on social media, and people started following Brickley by virtue of being Brown’s friend. However, Brickley wasn’t allowed to post basketball content while working with the Knicks. He realized he had the skills and notoriety to take his training career independent, so he departed in April 2017 and began Black Ops Basketball, holding his scrimmage runs and training sessions at a gym a few blocks from Times Square.
Brickley played it smart. He started inviting professional photographers to his training sessions, and all this high-quality content led to even more followers. The gym is open, so technically, people are free to come through. Brown kept coming through, and pretty soon, other rappers and singers started reaching out.
“I’m not a rapper trainer. That’s not what I am,” Brickley says. “I don’t invite these people to the gym. They’re here because they love playing basketball. If it’s a big artist, I tell them straight, ‘You could come…’ If I’m your fan, you can come through, or if one of the players really likes you, then you can come through. They come because they want to see the NBA players workout, and then when the workout’s done, they’re always hanging around, so it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s get some shots in.’”
He does end up shooting with artists, though. He says Brown is actually the most talented when it comes to straight court skills. Brickley coached Team Breezy for four years in its annual match-up against Team Ludacris in Atlanta. He says Brown scored an impressive 28 points against real NBA players. He also claims Quavo is a basketball beast. The pair met about five years ago when Migos opened for Brown’s tour, well before Migos became the juggernaut act it is today.
“Quavo would always want to get in workouts, so we were working out a lot,” Brickley says. “Every day, he wanted me to teach him something new. He always had the craziest outfits. He wore like a $3,500 Louis Vuttion spandex shorts and t-shirt to a workout. That was kind of cool. “
That wild outfit workout video landed on Hypebeast, pushing Brickley’s profile even further. One day, Quavo came through the gym with Travis Scott, and of course, that footage went viral too. Scott has even talked about hiring Brickley to join him on tour in the NBA off-season when the trainer is less busy, but nothing is set in stone just yet.
Brickley has met all kinds of athletes, rappers, singers, even actors and actresses thanks to his fame, so it’s hard to leave him star struck. But then there was the time he met Drake.
“I was walking through (the Public Hotel) and someone grabs my arm,” he says. “I look back. It was Drake, and he goes, ‘Brickley?’ I had never met Drake, and Drake’s someone I’ve listened to extensively. He’s been almost like a motivation to my life, lots of life situations that I’ve gone through that I can relate to his music. So I’m like, ‘Oh my god, this guy knows my name.’ He said, ‘Man, I’m a fan of your work. I followed your journey. We need to get in the gym.’ Who ever would have thought that?”
Brickley utilizes rap music in his workouts, which makes its way to his videos. It makes the videos more entertaining, but it’s also a gym necessity. In the summer, the place swarms with kids who try to take pictures of the famous players. The music keeps everyone focused.
“Whatever mood the player is in, they’ll give me an album and we’ll listen to that,” Brickley says. “All types of record labels, musicians, this and that, they try and get me to play their music, but… if Melo wants to listen to Nas‘s first album, we’ll listen to it. If he wants to listen to The Blueprint, we’ll listen to it.”
Brickley sometimes trains with Cole Anthony, one of the top-rated high school players in the country. The pair once posted a video with Meek Mill‘s music in the background, and it got 120,000 views in 13 hours. Meek even “liked” it, and Brickley helped facilitate their meeting. That sent young Anthony into the clouds.
It’s always cool for Brickley to see these two worlds collide. The basketball players get excited about meeting the rappers, and vice versa. Brickley gets to hang out in between, even sitting it on studio sessions with some of these guys, his idols-turned-friends.
“I was in the studio with Meek… until 2:30 a.m.,” he says. “He was working on his new album (for seven hours), and that gets me excited. Chris Brown was the first person that really motivated me through his craft to work harder… Brown spends godly hours working in the studi … literally from like 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. And during those times, I’d get so motivated with my notebook. I’d start writing drills.”
Brickley’s connections have helped his Color Blind streetwear brand gain a following too, but he tries to keep it organic. It started in 2013 as a personal political statement against highly publicized cases of police brutality against unarmed black men. He posted a picture of himself wearing a hoodie, and Juelz Santana reached out asking what it was. Chris Brown told him to run with the idea, and now, he’s got a lot of athletes and musicians wearing his gear.
“I don’t push it on anybody,” he says. “I don’t use my little bit of celebrity I’ve gotten to throw it on these players. My manager actually gets on me, like, ‘Why aren’t you giving clothes to these guys when you’re in town?’ I like to keep it organic.”
It’s his hope that Color Blind can one day be as in demand as Off-White, carried in high-end department stores like Barney’s, doing crossovers with high-fashion designers like Louis Vuitton and Supreme. “I just want to keep breaking boundaries and doing things that no trainer has ever done,” Brickley says. “I study the game. I watch film. I build relationships with players. I also love clothes. I love music. It’s all about putting it together in a way that no one’s ever done it.
“I get like 1,000 DMs a week,” he continues. “Some of them are dickheads who are bored, but a lot are like, ‘I work at this hedge fund in Wall Street, make great money. I’d leave my job immediately if you gave me a job.’ I’ll get a message from a single mother in Houston, and she’ll be like, ‘Just so you know, when I wake up in the morning and I’m behind all my bills, I have two kids — your page inspires me.’ The fact that you’re inspiring people – my job is being done. There’s no money that can buy that.”