Meet Chris Brickley, the man behind the summer’s most stacked NBA run

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Monday night in Santa Monica, the NBA handed out its annual awards — MVP, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, and on down the line.

Next year’s award winners are being made right now — it’s off-season work that separates the good from the great, that introduces new skills, that lets talent shine in the NBA.

Right now, a lot of that is happening in Chris Brickley’s gym in New York — he is the go-to trainer around the NBA. His NBA summer “Black Ops” runs (which start next week) are legendary. Brickley’s ability to connect with players and form a relationship — then from that place of trust push them physically and to develop new skills — has players flocking to his gym.

He sat down with NBC Sports to tell his story — one of hard work and perseverance — and you can see that in the video above.

Brickley’s workouts right now are stacked with a who’s who of the NBA — if you don’t believe me just check out his Instagram feed.

“(Players work) extremely hard, they dedicate every day, four or five days a week to it, they schedule their day around the workouts,” Brickley told NBC Sports. “We schedule, we plan, we text back-and-forth every night about what we’re going to work on. To them, it’s their full-time job.”

This is Brickley’s busy season. While fans obsess over free agency and where LeBron James will go or where Kawhi Leonard will get traded (and players care about that, too), the best players are in the gym at least five days a week now getting ready for next season.

“They all take about three or four weeks off (after the season), so the first week he’s in you can’t push a guy too hard because that’s how you get them injured,” Brickley said. “Then, as they get back into the shape they want to get in, you just push harder and harder and by the time August and September comes you’re doing full-blown workouts and they’re in unbelievable shape and ready for training camp.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BkjgddxBOSI/?hl=en&taken-by=cbrickley603

Conditioning is part of what he does, but what separates the top players is the skills they add, and improving their weaknesses during the off-season. Brickley watches a lot of film, talks to players and their teams, about what they need to develop to fill a new role or take their game to the next level.

“It’s always skill work first and foremost, and some guys you focus a little more on conditioning,” Brickley said. “Some guys come in shape and you focus less on conditioning and more on skill work.”

But what the guys like best is the run — high-level scrimmages that can’t be found many places. The best NBA players want to be pushed, which means playing against each other in the off-season as well.

“They’re all competitive, they got to the NBA because they’re competitive athletes. It’s the off-season, so you might as well, if you can, play against some elite talent, they do it…” Brickley said. “It’s personal. Certain guys have certain rivalries against other guys, whether they are superstars or not superstars, so when it’s time and that other player is guarding them, they’re not going to want to be embarrassed in front of their peers. There’s 10-15 other NBA players in there…

“I think some days it is personal, and they play as hard as if it’s a playoff game.”

Brickley was a college walk-on player whose eye as a trainer and developing talent ultimately landed him a job with the Knicks. It was there that he became a favorite workout trainer/partner of Carmelo Anthony.

“I was with the Knicks for five years, that first year we clicked,” Brickley said. “That second year… we became really close friends. As we traveled around the country he let me network with other players — Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden and everything — and through ‘Melo I got those relationships and that really helped me out.”

Now those relationships are paying off now and made him the hottest trainer in the NBA, a summer go-to for a lot of players. He gets to know these players as people, they know he cares about them and relates to them, and it’s from that place that he can push them in the gym. The connection matters.

It’s that connection, and his story, that has his gym full all summer long.