Even though Kawhi Leonard grew up in Los Angeles, he still needed help with navigating the city when he returned to play for the Clippers. According to Leonard himself, he turned to friend and mentor Kobe Bryant for advice.
During a recent conversation with ESPN, Leonard explained how Kobe advised him to start taking helicopters so that he can get to and from his San Diego home in a timely manner.
"I talked to him about it before our transition to playing in L.A.," he said. "Just seeing how [he] got back and forth from Newport, and he said he was doing it for about 17 years or so."
Leonard took Kobe's advice. He even started to use Kobe's preferred pilot, Ara Zobayan, for his trips to and from San Diego. Zobayan was the pilot who was flying the helicopter during Sunday's tragic accident.
"Yeah, same pilot, everything," Leonard said. "The whole situation, this whole program, the setup, how [Bryant] was traveling back and forth was the same way I was getting here from San Diego."
Zobayan would often fly Kawhi and Kobe on the same day.
"Great guy. Super nice. He was one of the best pilots," Kawhi recalled. "That is a guy who you ask for to fly you from city to city. It's just surreal still. He will drop me off and say he is about [to] go pick up Kobe, [and] Kobe said hello. Or he'll just be like, 'I just dropped Kobe off, and he said hello.' Vice versa. So it's a crazy interaction. He's a good dude, and I'm sorry for everybody."
Because of his connection to both Kobe and Zobayan, Leonard is still sifting through his emotions following the accident. This flurry of thoughts makes it hard for him to be clear on if he'll continue traveling in helicopters, he explained.
"I feel like that ... I mean ... the things that you hear, you don't know what's real yet," Kawhi said. "I can't really speak on it. I don't know. I don't know yet. It's a lot of thoughts in my head."
As a native of Southern California and someone who was often in direct contact with Kobe, Leonard is still processing what happened.
"It's sad every day," he continued. "You know, you kind of feel like life isn't real once you start seeing these little monuments or the pictures that people are putting up with his face and the year he was born and the year he died. It's not all come together yet."
Per TMZ, Sikorsky, the maker of Kobe's helicopter, had been taking steps to urge owners to add a Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS) to their choppers. According to The National Transportation Safety Board, Kobe's helicopter was not equipped with a TAWS because it wasn't standard technology until recently. It's the same reason the chopper didn't have a cockpit voice or flight data recorder (a black box). Sikorsky is now working with the NTSB to help investigate the crash.