Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard is weighing whether to continue using helicopter commutes to get around Southern California.
Leonard is pondering the practice after Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and eight others died on Sunday, when a helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, Calif., about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
“The things that you hear, you don’t know what’s real yet,” Leonard said when asked if he has concerns. “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.”
Leonard knew the helicopter pilot who died in the crash – Ara Zobayan – from his own trips, primarily from Los Angeles to San Diego and vice versa. Leonard was a college star at San Diego State and has a home in the area in addition to having a residence close to the Staples Center.
“Yeah, same pilot, everything,” Leonard told reporters after practice on Wednesday. “The whole situation, this whole program, the set-up, how (Bryant) was travelling back and forth was the same way I was getting here from San Diego.”
Bryant lived in Newport Beach, located in Orange County, and regularly used helicopters to avoid the infamous Los Angeles traffic. Upon signing with the Clippers, Leonard asked Bryant for advice on how to handle the commute and that was how he came to know Zobayan.
“Great guy. Super nice. He was one of the best pilots,” Leonard said of Zobayan. “That is a guy who you ask 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.”
Leonard said he still hasn’t come to grips that Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, Zobayan and the six others are gone.
“It’s sad every day,” Leonard said. “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 doesn’t seem real. It just seems like you’re in a movie or something. And you know, you just want to wake up. So it’s still surreal to me. It’s not all come together yet.”
The Clippers were slated to play the Lakers on Tuesday at the Staples Center but the game was postponed due to the tragedy.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said it was the right call.
“I thought it would’ve been a horrendous game,” Rivers told reporters. “I wasn’t ready for it, the players weren’t ready for it. I can’t imagine the Lakers as an organization, forget their players, just the organization, there’s no way they would’ve been ready for it. … If we played it, it would’ve been a game played, but I just thought it would’ve been a meaningless game in too many ways. And there’s times where emotion and grief have to give out to your job, and in that case, I thought the league made the right choice.”
The Clippers return to action on Thursday when they host the Sacramento Kings.
The Lakers play for the first time since Bryant’s death on Friday, when the Portland Trail Blazers visit Los Angeles.