In the social media era, basketball trainers have become influencers in the basketball space. Most trainers in the landscape promote their clients on their social channels to give fans access to watch their favorite players train and hoop. The micro training clips are also inspiring the next generation of basketball players who want to learn the trades of the profession. NBA and WNBA skills coach Alex Bazzell is one of the most respected trainers in the business and has worked with some of the most skilled players in the sport such as Carmelo Anthony, Candace Parker, Trae Young, Kyrie Irving and developed a close friendship with Kobe Bryant before his passing.
Through their shared relationship with Kobe, which Anthony refers to as “The Kobe factor” Bazzell and Anthony co-founded Through the Lens, a subscription-based video product and education platform featuring an all-star roster of NBA and WNBA talent.
“Put simply, my goal is to leave the game better than how I found it. Over the years I’ve put a lot of thought into the best way to go about that, and it starts with making coaching and education about the sport accessible for young people, regardless of their gender, race, skill level or background,” Anthony says. “Alex and I are proud to introduce Through the Lens as a platform offering unprecedented access to education and motivation at the highest level, to keep pushing the game and the next generation forward.”
Bazzell spoke to Sports Illustrated about the launch of the platform, his relationship with Kobe, working with Carmelo Anthony, and why growing the women’s game is so important.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity
Harris: You mentioned that Kobe Bryant was a mentor of yours. How did that connection happen? How tough was it to build the platform after learning of his passing?
Bazzell: Kobe Bryant basically took me under his wing. He was my mentor the last two and a half years. I didn't really start working on Through the Lens during that time. I had this concept that was constantly rolling before the accident and it was something that he had talked to me about wanting to work with me on it but it was never a specific, ‘Hey, let's do this, this or this.’ There was no company name. There was nothing like that. He just wanted to help me. We kind of always aligned with our thought process of women’s basketball and also just training in general. So we've always aligned in that way. And obviously, once January happened, the accident happened, I took a step back cause, Kobe’s loss was extremely tough for me, but what was tougher was I worked with not only Gigi [Bryant], but Alyssa [Altobelli] and Payton [Chester], who are two who were on the flight as well.
I was working with their team two or three times a week down in L.A. So that news kind of took me away from everything, training, anything work-related for probably a month and a half. I didn't really want to do anything. It was just tough. I started to build Through the Lens in March and I just felt this need to do my part. Kobe's legacy is cemented and whatever I do is not going to change his legacy but being around him, learning from him and being mentored by him, I felt this responsibility to at least pull my weight and what that looked like was trying to pull everyone together for this common goal of, This is what needs to be accomplished. So it helped me heal in a way that I knew I had a responsibility to try to do just because of all the conversations that we had. And I was just trying to figure out the best way to do that.
Harris: You work with some of the best WNBA players, Candace Parker and Sabrina Ionescu, to name a few. You mentioned with Through the Lens, growing the women’s game was your No. 1 priority.
Bazzell: The women's side is another unique story. My fiancé [Napheesa Collier] actually plays in the WNBA. She was rookie of the year two years ago. She played at UConn. She's the one that actually introduced me to Kobe. The WNBA side is just as relevant with me as the NBA side. So learning from Kobe, women’s basketball is a huge part of my life every day. I just kinda saw this need for not only equality, but inclusion. A lot of sports, specifically, is always tailored to men or young boys because we're seen as athletes and women are put in this specific box of who you have to be. Napheesa is one of the best athletes in the world, so I have a different perspective on women athletes and what they bring to the world.
We wanted to try to bring that to the forefront and bring more awareness to not just their game, but who they are as people. When we set out to build Through the Lens, obviously again, Kobe being a huge mentor of mine, I always believed in the way he was able to inspire me from afar and up close. I gained so many life lessons from him before I even knew him. And I think that's important for young girls to have that same perspective. Like it's great to look up to a Kyrie or a Trae Young or LeBron, but to actually be able to look up to someone that looks like you and talks like you, I think that's extremely relevant and extremely important is what quite frankly, it's just missing from the sports world. So that was kind of our mission when we set out to start this thing, I started the blueprints of it last year. So about a year and a half ago and it really started getting expedited back in February and that kind of led us to where we are at now.
Harris: What is your relationship with Carmelo like? How involved was he in the process of building the program?
Bazzell: We have a very unique relationship. He was very tight with Kobe, but that's not how we met. We met through a different source and I kind of met him at the lowest point of his career. He was out of the league. There had to be a quick amount of trust that we built. So forming that relationship at a level to where we felt like we were kind of in this dog fight together. I think it brought us together a lot closer than if I would've joined him at the peak of his career or early in his career when things were going well. So that formed that unique relationship that not a lot of people ever get to experience. Then once he decided he wanted to kind of step in and spearhead this thing, just with how powerful his voice is, the conversations I always have with him is there's very few people that demand the respect that he does from all age groups.
Like he's at a unique time in his life and his career where he's loved by everyone. You can see it within the support of the league, but there's not many people that are going to be like, ‘Oh, I don't like Melo.’ It’s like, you don't get a lot of those people. Whereas when you're in the prime of your career, you get a lot of people that love you and a lot of people that hate you, but he's kind of at the point of his career where now he's trying to give back. And he's someone that people are really celebrating because we did go without him for a year and a half. In terms of just working on this project, the biggest thing is that these athletes have entrusted in me is a name, and a name is more important than any check that they can write or any posts they can put out. Because I know how valuable that name is, especially when it relates to basketball. So it's just for him to trust me with that. That means more than, you know, really anything.
We were thinking about different names and it was really Carmelo that wanted to go through with what was called Through the Lens. We had a bunch of different ideas thrown out there. Melo, like the fact that it was it's just straight through the lens or the eyes and the minds of the best people in the world. We wanted to give that portrayal of the company name should be exactly what that is cause it's great to learn from a coach or a trainer or someone that's close to the situation, but nothing's better than learning directly from the source. That’s something I've learned, not only from being around Kobe, but being around Candace Parker or Carmelo or Kyrie, they all have this supreme knowledge that you just don't get access to. We wanted to give that like through the lens, we wanted to give it directly through the lens of the best classes.