Kawhi Leonard discusses having the same pilot as Kobe Bryant and whether he’ll keep flying in helicopters

Leonard started using helicopters after speaking to Bryant (Picture: HoopJab/YouTube)

Last season’s NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard has confirmed that he used the same pilot as Kobe Bryant and may continue flying in helicopters despite the recent tragedy.

Bryant, who had been taking helicopters for 17 years to avoid LA’s heavy traffic, passed away along with daughter Gianna, pilot Ara Zobayan and six other passengers after crashing in the hillside in Calabasas on Sunday.

LA Clippers star Leonard says news of the crash was hard to process, having grown close to both Bryant and pilot Zobayan, though he will not necessarily stop flying in helicopters as a result.

Kawhi had plenty of battles with Kobe when he was at the San Antonio Spurs (Picture: Getty)

Asked by reporters if the tragedy has prompted him to reassess using choppers, Leonard replied: ‘I mean, no, it was just one of those times where it was just his time, you know, I feel like.

‘But I mean, the things that you hear, you don’t know what’s real, you know? I can’t really speak on it. I don’t know, I don’t know yet.’

Leonard started flying in helicopters after speaking with Bryant, explaining: ‘I talked to him about it before I transitioned to playing in LA, just seeing how he got back and forth from Newport. He said he was doing it for about 17 years or so.

‘But same pilot, everything, the whole situation. This whole programme was set up, how he was travelling back and forth was the same way I was getting here from San Diego.’

On pilot Zobayan, he added: ‘I’ve flown with him a lot. Great guy, super nice, he was one of their best pilots. That’s a guy who you ask for to fly you from city to city.

‘It’s just surreal still for me. He’d drop me off and say he’s about to go pick up Kobe, Kobe said hello, or he’ll just be like, “I just dropped Kobe off and he said hello” and vice versa. So it’s just a crazy interaction. He’s a good dude. I’m sorry for everybody.’

Leonard grew up in southern California when Kobe was in his prime with the Lakers and he admits it will take a very long time to get over losing his idol.

Asked to sum up their conversations, Leonard said: ‘Just everything he did. I’m a guy who talked to Kobe last year before the season and right after we won [the NBA title] in the locker room.

‘I worked out with him before I went to Toronto, and he was probably the first or second guy we talked to, other than our teammates and family, after we won in the locker room. It’s just that motivation.

‘I thought about him every game. He was a sense of a drive for me last year just trying to win that championship.’

MORE: Kobe Bryant’s wife Vanessa breaks silence on his and Gianna’s death in heartbreaking statement

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