A second Los Angeles superstar often flew in the same helicopter as Kobe Bryant and with the same pilot, Ara Zobayan, a 50-year old experienced commercial pilot who also died in the crash. The player freely shared his opinion of the pilot with reporters in an interview yesterday.
Kawhi Leonard, who was the most valuable player in the NBA Finals last season, was mentored by and became close friends with Kobe Bryant, the former L.A. Lakers star who was killed along with eight others in the crash of a helicopter on Sunday. In comments to the press, Leonard told ESPN that he was conflicted about whether or not to continue flying in a helicopter to avoid L.A. traffic for travel to and from games. The Lakers and Clippers share an arena, the Staples Center, in downtown Los Angeles. A game scheduled between the two teams on Wednesday night was postponed by the NBA in the wake of the tragedy.
Whereas Bryant commuted from Orange County, about an hour-long drive when traffic is good, which is hardly ever the case, Leonard spent time at his home in San Diego and often commuted from there when he wasn’t staying in L.A. The drive to downtown L.A. from San Diego is around two-and-a-half hours. The helicopter cut that trip by two-thirds.
Leornard also said that he knew Zobayan well, and that he was the favored pilot for both Bryant and himself and called the pilot “a great guy,” “one of their best pilots” and “the guy you ask for to fly you from city to city.” Zobayan, Kawhi said, would often pass greetings from one player to the next when their flights were back to back.