DETROIT (WXYZ) — She’s a game-changer and someone you’re likely to see working closely with Detroit Pistons players during games. The team’s assistant athletic trainer is also raising the bar.
She’s now become the first African American woman in league history to assume the head trainer role during a game. Brianna Jefferson is an elite trainer, a member of the Pistons organization not just making history here in Detroit, but throughout the entire NBA.
In her first year with the team, she’s beaming with pride and full of enthusiasm.
“I think it’s fun. It’s fun. You get to see so many of your favorite athletes in a regular role,” Jefferson said. “It’s so funny to think I am making history. That’s not what I ever thought I would be doing.”
Jefferson began as an intern with the New York Knicks in 2018. Her own fearlessness and drive became apparent when she bought a ticket and made her way to the court in a suit to deliver a resume to the head trainer.
“He was like, ‘How did you get down here?’ I was like, ‘They let me through.’ He said, 'If you are bold enough to come down here, I’m going to interview you right on the spot,'” Jefferson recalled.
From there, various stints in the NBA’s G League from Detroit to California gave the Alabama native with a master’s degree in athletic training the chance to learn the ropes.
7 Action News asked Jefferson, “Do you think of yourself as someone who is pioneering a new path?”
Her answer is simply: “Now that I am in the profession when young girls reach out to me, I do realize, oh man, there’s so many people looking up to me.”
With the Pistons, she has shattered a ceiling and truly embraces her role. On more than one occasion, she has filled in as head athletic trainer during games against Charlotte and Milwaukee. She’s the first African American woman to do so in the league.
“Every day, I’m in awe. This is like a dream come true. I’m someone who’s never played basketball a day in her life, couldn’t make the team. But I’m here working with the team and these highly skilled athletes,” she said.
Each day, Jefferson provides care to athletes by assisting with rehabilitation, injury prevention, and corrective exercise. Common injuries can include ankle sprains and concussions.
“You need a tight group of people around you to encourage you when you feel like giving up because this is a hard role to get into. You have to be determined,” Jefferson said.
Her boss Jim Scholler says her focus and determination are just part of what makes her a success.
“In the case where I, myself, got caught up in the health and safety protocols, she was able and prepared because of all the work she had done to kind of seamlessly move into that position,” Scholler said.
As for players, she says the adjustment of having a female athletic trainer has been a good one and she’s become more of a big sister to them as part of an organization that values diversity, inclusion and professionalism.
“I always say, 'It’s OK, you can be yourself.' And they say, 'No out of respect, Bri, we want to make sure you feel comfortable.' They give me that same respect as their mom or big sister,” Jefferson said.
She also credits her faith and willingness to step outside her comfort zone as keys to her success.
Jefferson is a hero in more ways than one. For eight years in the Army, she’s also used her skills to give first aid and life support to soldiers.