Most schoolyard kids who picked “Professional athlete” when asked what they want to do when they grow up don’t get there. Likely 99.9% of them end up doing something else and get regular jobs ranging from accountant to zookeeper.
Getting paid to do what you love, especially as a professional athlete, is the dream. Being successful at it for 15 years plus is the ultimate dream. The average career length in any of the major sports is a shade under five years. Granted, we all know about the lifelong icon Tom Brady, but for every one of those rarities there are tons of players you never heard of who only had a cup of coffee in the pros.
Enter stage right: Newtown area's Christian Burns.
Burns, born and raised in the Trenton/Hamilton, NJ area, started his successful basketball journey in his senior year of high school. He had blossomed in height (growing 7” in two years) and in his game, averaging a fraction under 20 points and 15 rebounds a game for the season, more affectionately known in basketball circles as a “Double-double”. A feat that is great when accomplishment in one game, and just phenomenal when averaged over an entire season. His elite play got his phone ringing and his mailbox filled as colleges across the country began to show serious interest.
That terrific high-school career granted Burns the opportunity to play Division I college basketball, and in 2003 he attended Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. In two seasons with the Bobcats he averaged 10 minutes of playing time a night coupled with four points and three rebounds, a “Single-single”, and a far cry from the numbers he was putting up back in Jersey. Something didn’t seem right as he knew he was better than that.
In 2005 Burns decided to come home and transferred to Philadelphia University, now known as Jefferson after the schools merged in 2017. Under the tutelage of basketball Hall of Fame coach Herb Magee, entering his 55th season with the team, Burns shaped his game, and began preparing for basketball after college. Home cooking and expert coaching served him well, as his numbers jumped back up, averaging 19 and 11 while leading the Rams to back-to-back 20 win seasons and a trip to the NCAA tournament. A monster senior year earned Burns the NCAA Division II National Player of the Year award.
Playing a sport in college is where it ends for the vast majority of NCAA athletes who use it as a springboard to getting that “regular” job. Burns certainly had the ability and desire to keep going and made a run at the monumental task of making the NBA. Though not drafted, he managed to get a summer tryout and look by the Philadelphia 76ers’. He was working out and going shoulder-to-shoulder with other hopefuls, including the chosen few that made it all the way and had flourishing NBA careers.
Christian didn’t make the 76ers’ or the NBA, but that’s nowhere near where the professional story ends. As a matter of fact, it’s really where it begins.
Burns was determined to continue the journey and landed in Europe, where starting in late 2007 he would spend the next 15 years, not as a tourist, but as a working professional. He would be playing pro basketball and getting a chance, rarely afforded to most, to travel the world doing what he loves. It was destiny and a goal achieved.
In the first several seasons, Poland, Portugal, Germany, Ukraine, Israel, Russia, the Czech Republic, and Dubai were some of the countries where Burns played at a high level on the region’s top teams. Then there is Italy where he has been playing professionally since 2016. He became an Italian citizen, which made him eligible to play on the national team in the 2017 EuroBasket continent-wide tournament.
European basketball is serious business and many great players from the states make their way over the pond and sign with premier club teams, using Europe as an outlet to play professionally. Christian was the European player of the year in 2011 while suiting up in the Ukraine, an honor equivalent to being an NBA MVP in the states. He also has a championship under his belt, leading his Czech team to a title a few years later. He has continued to be a prolific scorer at all stops along the way averaging double-digit points per game throughout his entire career to date. It’s a real accomplishment to dominate consistently over the last decade and a half, and he is still going strong.
So what does Christian, his wife (Emma), and kids (Brooklyn 11, Beyla 7) do during the offseason back in Bucks County? Though let’s face it, the Burns family has access to the best cuisine on the planet while in Italy, they do fancy all the Newtown hots-spots, and are regulars at La Stalla and Solstice. Christian is a staple and mainstay at the Newtown Athletic Center (NAC) where he works out to keep in top competitor shape during the two to three months he is home in-between seasons.
Christian is planning for life after playing the game, keeping basketball in his crosshairs. He is laying the groundwork to become a basketball sports agent, keeping him connected to the game he loves and that has served him so well. His vast international network, playbook on getting to the pros, and experience around the globe will lend itself to aiding future players similar to Burns in conquering their dreams.
Burns is also thinking through ways to bring his on-court success back to Newtown. He has aspirations to start and operate a basketball facility business. Think of it as a place for players of all ages to learn and play the game, while getting better and working out with top players from the area. Similar to work as an agent, this would give him a way in which he can guide future potential versions of himself. Emma, who has been by his side traveling and supporting him since his first professional season in Poland and every step along the way, was born and raised in Newtown, making setting up a homestead in the area an easy choice.
Basketball runs in the family as his son Brooklyn is growing fast, with, as Christian put it, a “long” physique comparable to Kevin Durant. Those are some tall shoes to fill, though just playing at the same level as his dad would be an outstanding accomplishment.
To all the Newtown boys and girls playing and loving basketball or enjoying other passions, and to the parents of these kids who spend many weekends sitting in hot gyms or touring the coast being a chauffeur to events and competitions, remember that a Dream (Hoop or otherwise) doesn’t need to be just that, a dream. Hard work, determination, want and desire can get you there and make it a reality. If you don’t believe it, just ask Mr. Burns when you run into him at the State Street Starbucks, the NAC or anywhere else around town.
John Fiduccia is a Bucks County resident and entrepreneurial creative thinker and writer. His credits include the critically acclaimed book "Paranoid", and various business and sports/humor pieces featured on LinkedIn and syndicated sites. He is also actively working on a screenplay and the motivational and positivity Blog/Podcast/Video venture PoisedToWin.com.