Editor’s Note: This story was published exactly three years following the tragic deaths of Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sara Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan. I spoke to Andy Treys about what Kobe meant to him, his life and his career, and how KB24.com was ultimately resurrected to honor Bryant’s legacy. You can watch the video on the website, and here is the story behind it.
Andy Treys isn’t your average front-row Lakers fan.
You won’t find Treys on the pages of TMZ, but he’s arguably the most successful American-Armenian in L.A., outside of the Kardashians.
When Treys was just 18, he founded GetMeFamous.com, one of the web’s first social media marketing agencies. Successful campaigns for rising celebrities buoyed a multimillion-dollar business that boasts an audience of more than 800 million people.
But perhaps the most interesting entrepreneurial endeavor the L.A. native has under his belt revolves around a legendary centerpiece: Kobe Bryant.
Like many Lakers fans in the mid-1990s and 2000s, Treys grew up watching Bryant blossom into the basketball icon the world recognizes him as today.
“I was a super-super Kobe [Bryant] fan since as long as I can remember,” Treys said. “I watched every game as a kid, and I would cry when the Lakers lost. My love for Kobe, and basketball in general, transcended throughout our family, despite my dad being into soccer because he was an immigrant from Armenia and that was more of the culture there. It became a family tradition to watch the games, and my dad would also take me to as many games as he could afford.”
In 2008, Treys’ father surprised his son by enrolling him in the Kobe Bryant Academy, which was the annual basketball camp Bryant held locally.
Naturally, Dad would film his son’s participation at the camp, but also Bryant working with the kids. Inspired by producer Chris Manning, one of the all-time great NBA storytellers, Treys would take that footage, edit highlights of the camp and post them on YouTube.
With those clips of Bryant and his disciples, Treys accumulated enough watch hours and subscribers to ultimately become an early partner of YouTube.
Fast forward more than a decade, a couple of years beyond the tragic death of Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, Treys remained as loyal as ever to his role model. And then one day, an opportunity to permanently pair him to his hero presented itself.
Buying and selling web domains is a skill set in Treys’ expansive digital marketing arsenal. While shopping for quality URLs in August 2021, he couldn’t believe the domain he saw available for purchase – KB24.com.
KB24.com was Bryant’s personal website for more than a decade, and Treys jumped at the chance to buy it.
“When I was growing up, I would visit (KB24.com) every day,” Treys recalled. “It was a place where Kobe connected with his fans on a personal level. He would sometimes come on and give his thoughts after games, post pictures from camps…all kinds of cool interaction. The asking price was pretty expensive, but I didn’t care, it felt like a steal to me. This was a piece of Kobe from my childhood that I could hold on to and keep forever.”
Treys ended up paying a premium for the site, but he didn’t have any specific plans for it at the time, other than holding on to a “1/1 Kobe Bryant collectors’ item” that he would “never sell.”
Throughout 2021, non-fungible tokens (or NFTs) had gone mainstream. NBA Topshot popularized them among sports fans, and then suddenly athletes and celebrities were buying digital images of bored apes, pixelated punks and everything in between.
“Part of my team, part of the ones ahead of the curve and looking out for what is to be next, was saying, ‘This is going to be it. This is big in the [NFT] space,’” Odell Beckham Jr. said in an interview with Afrotech.com.
The NFT revolution presented an opportunity for Treys. He had the marketing and technical resources to create an NFT collection, and now he had the perfect platform to build a brand around it.
However, Treys knew that he couldn’t just start developing digital artwork of Bryant and monetizing it, nor did he want to. So, Treys consulted with his colleagues and friends, such as former L.A. Times Lakers beat writer Arash Markazi, who could put him in touch with the right people in the Bryant Estate and beyond.
The outcome was a movement the NFT industry had never witnessed before.
On September 7, 2021, the “KB24 NFT” project was officially announced. It would be a collection of 8,240 pieces of animated art, featuring Bryant’s image and likeness (the collection size being a nod to Bryant’s jersey numbers). The NFTs would be built on the Ethereum blockchain, and the project would be promoted on KB24.com.
But here’s the detail that caught everyone by surprise: All proceeds from the initial sale, as well as every penny of profit from secondary sales of the collection, would be donated to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation.
At that time, the donation from a sellout of the KB24 NFT drop would have been at least $2 million. The revenue generated from secondary market sales, in perpetuity, could have ranged from $10 million to $100 million.
“We want to change the NFT space,” Andy Treys told Forbes following the announcement. “There’s so much room for the NFT community to give back to charities and make this world better. We’re not doing this for fame or fortune; we’re doing this because we want to extend Kobe’s legacy to the digital realm forever.”
The NFT and sports worlds were abuzz with excitement. Every collector wanted the chance to mint a KB24 token, and NBA legends such Dwight Howard, Kenny Smith and Metta World Peace voiced public support for the charitable project.
The KB24 NFT momentum rapidly grew across Twitter, Discord and other social platforms, so much it was featured on Maxim.com. Treys and his longtime business partner, Sako Waves, were working around the clock with every ounce of energy going into the project.
“We dropped every client,” Treys said. “We dropped everything because this was bigger than anything I’d ever done. I told my crew, ‘We’re focusing on this for the next “X” amount of time, however long it takes.’ And that was our entire focal point for the next eight months.”
Following a proposed contract between the two parties, the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation began the arduous process of registering as a NPO in every U.S. state in order to accept “donations” (secondary NFT sales) that would come from any state outside of California.
While things were moving along well on the NFT production side, the regulatory process was slower and more complicated than anyone anticipated. Along with the auditing and registration process, donating massive sums of money in the form of cryptocurrency to a non-profit organization complicated matters even further.
The Foundation worked as quickly and diligently as possible, but timelines went from weeks to months. And while the KB24 NFT community remained engaged and loyal, momentum began to wane.
And then a bomb dropped.
TMZ Sports broke news that Vanessa Bryant, serving as President of Kobe Inc., filed a trademark for “KB24.” The filing led to speculation that she was going to create her own sports and entertainment company behind Bryant’s legacy, especially considering she declined to renew a partnership deal with Nike earlier in 2021. The trademark details even outlined digital collectible items, sports cards, websites, podcasts, TV shows, movies, documentaries, music, merchandise and more.
Treys assumed the trademark was associated with the legal hurdles the Foundation was working through. And the Foundation repeatedly assured him that the agreement to launch the KB24 NFT collection remained in place.
Treys and his team, which had ballooned to more than 40 people, continued to work on the project. They hired artists, developers, marketers, auditors, lawyers and everything in between. After 10 months of preparation and hundreds of thousands invested into the project, Treys took what ended up being a final Zoom call from Kat Conlon, who serves as the Foundation’s Executive Director.
“She simply said that Vanessa wanted to go in a different direction, and that they wouldn’t endorse or even allow for the project to continue,” Treys said. “I was confused. I was angry. But more than anything, I was heartbroken. After everything we’d prepared and promised, all for the good of humanity and Kobe’s legacy, we were just cast aside.”
Shortly after that call, Vanessa announced that Kobe, Inc. and Nike had agreed to a new partnership. Coincidentally, the terms of the deal included Nike donating 100 percent of the net proceeds of Gianna Bryant’s shoe sales to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation.
Being a serial entrepreneur, Treys has seen best laid plans go array more than once. And when you’ve created enough hype to get the attention of Nike, maybe you’ve learned a valuable lesson, and then you give yourself a pat on the back.
Treys said he fully respected Vanessa’s decision, and still holds Kobe on the highest pedestal. Kobe, Inc. has reached out a few times to discuss KB24.com and its future, but as Treys has maintained since the day he acquired the domain, he has no intention to sell.
“I would still like to find a way to work with the Foundation and the Bryant Estate to do something cool with the site, for all the Kobe fans around the world,” Treys said. “I don’t want money or recognition; I just want to know I was part of Kobe’s legacy in some way. That would mean a lot to me, personally. Living the rest of my life knowing I’m part of this…a part of something greater than all of us.
“Telling part of this story now…I think it brings closure to something that has just been sitting with me,” Treys said. “I’m not here pointing fingers or placing blame, that’s the last thing I want to do. But getting the part of my story out there might open an opportunity or avenue toward reaching the goal we originally set out to achieve. Kobe was a positive impact for so many people during his time on this earth, and, even if just a fraction of that, I hope I can somehow do the same and carry on his message and mentality.”
Treys, Waves and the rest of their team built the KB24 NFT community behind the “Mamba Mentality.” A hard-working group of dreamers that has achieved success in so many ways, and the odds of leaving their mark on the Kobe Bryant legacy are extremely good.