Chris Matthews is grateful for his unconventional basketball journey. It saw him play with Kevin Durant while Durant was a budding high school star in the Washington, D.C. area and later took him to countries such as Mexico, China and Russia where he played professionally. Today, Matthews is among the most highly sought-after private skills coaches in the NBA and WNBA, with clientele that has included Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, Candace Parker and Skylar Diggins-Smith.
In the public eye, Matthews is more commonly known as “Lethal Shooter,” an homage to his personal shooting prowess and a reflection of his work with those he impacts. In 2015, following a nomadic professional career littered with injuries, the California-based Matthews realized he could touch those around basketball as a coach. Teaching has become a passion and a calling, one that has been recognized by those closely associated with the sport and millions of others that track his whereabouts online. (His Instagram page, for example, has more than one million followers.) Still, Matthews deflects attention away from his following, dwelling more on the influence he’s had on the court as well as in his local D.C. area. He reflects on the pride he feels witnessing his students’ work. “The art of shooting is bigger to me than social media,” he says.
As both the NBA and WNBA prepare for a return this summer, Matthews spoke with Sports Illustrated about how the lengthy layoff might impact shooters, what training players was like amid the coronavirus pandemic and how Instagram has influenced the skills-training profession.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Sports Illustrated: What’s a misconception people have about basketball skills coaches?
Chris Matthews: I think a lot of people think it's easy to try and be a skills coach or help train NBA and WNBA players. There was a time when I was actually training people for minimum wage. I got my breakthrough by just being consistent and understanding how good I was as a coach. I’m all about everybody learning. I’m about the 40-year-old and about the four-year-old kid who wants to learn how to shoot. I’m a down to earth guy.
Don’t let Instagram define you because I’m a hooper who loves the game. I love teaching the art of shooting. My life is devoted to the art of shooting. If you’re a trainer and you’re devoted to the craft that you’re teaching, you’re going to be able to reach more people with that love.
SI: How has social media influenced the profession?
CM: Instagram just gives me an outlet to show my professionalism. I think Instagram allows me to post stuff so people can say, “Wow, he’s teaching something that he has really worked on his entire life.” There’s a lot of people teaching things that they didn’t master, but I feel like it gives me a push that I’m able to pull-up, hitting 10 threes from the corner. I feel like that kind of helps me with my edge. It has also helped me with my career because people could see other sides of me. I am a father with an 18-month-old daughter. I am somebody who likes to help other people. I use my platform to push positive, push towards ending racism, push equality, push kids to understand that it doesn’t matter what’s going on in your household or in your neighborhood. It isn’t about me. It’s about changing other people’s lives. The art of shooting is bigger to me than social media.
SI: Who mentored you as you matured in the industry?
CM: I had multiple mentors that helped me to get to where I’m at and understand my greatness. Craig Hodges, he was always there to pick up the phone anytime I needed him because he was a coach in the NBA and he’s been helping me understand my impact as a coach. Delonte Taylor Sr., he's been mentoring me since elementary school and just molding me and helping me understand that I need to keep pushing in life with consistency. My dad, Jeffery, he died in 2010 in front of me. But you know, I can remember how when I was young, every moment, he was so positive. My mom, Stephanie, she was always there for me and made me understand in life you need God. You can’t do everything by yourself. Her sacrifice that she made for me was priceless. My grandparents played a huge part in my life and growth too.
SI: What’s a goal for you personally?
CM: Five years ago, I had a lot of opportunities, but I wasn’t ready to go on an NBA staff. This year, the opportunities I have, I think I might take that turn because of where I’m at. I could see myself growing on an NBA staff and helping a team win a championship. So my goal in life right now, I would say, is to help a team win an NBA championship and do whatever it takes to help players on that team understand shooting.
Teams are starting to realize if you really, really want to gain an edge, you have to get specialists in those positions. Like I was saying, where I’m at in life, I feel like I’m ready to give teams that edge.
SI: How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact your ability to work with players?
CM: I was doing a lot of Zoom calls with players. A lot of NBA guys and WNBA players don’t have courts at their houses. So I was just making sure that their footwork stays sharp, telling them other things to remember in the gym. But also just talking about life in general. I also always wanted to get organized with my life and get things better organized with my business. It was a good time for me to become a better coach during that time as well, because I was able to watch more film. I’ve basically been able to go look at rosters and watch film on Synergy [Sports] on all their players that need help with the art of shooting.
SI: When you work with players, how does your method differ?
CM: If I were to train five people, I would train all of them differently because everybody has a different mind and everybody has different things that need to be fixed. That’s a huge point of what goes into my training. I break it down to a point that the person can understand it. And I’ve never had a client tell me they didn’t understand the art of shooting when I was done with it.
SI: How do you think the long layoff and Orlando bubble will impact shooting in the restart?
CM: I think we're going to really see in Orlando who was working and who wasn't. I think that's going to help me with my edge as well because a lot of players might be out of sync and it’s also gonna show. I know they’re gonna do a three-to-four week mini-camp, but they’ve also had a three-to-four month layoff from working out as a team. I’ll be prepared for it if a player needs me.
SI: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
CM: The most rewarding part is seeing the results. That's my whole life. Like when I see positive results, I feel like no money, no diamond, no car, no nothing can make you feel bad. So I just want what's best for my client and what helps them. When I see the result come in, that that feeling is priceless.