Kobe Bryant was an idol for so many current NBA stars. Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard is one of the players who looked up to the late Los Angeles legend and talked about Bryant's helicopter pilot, Ara Zobayan, who was one of the nine victims in the crash that happened on Sunday. Leonard confirmed that he had flown with Zobayan before and had nothing but good things to say about him.
"Flown with him a lot," Leonard told reporters via USA Today. "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'll drop me off and say he's about to pick up Kobe. ... He'll be like, 'I just dropped Kobe off, he said, 'Hello' ' and vice versa. It's just a crazy interaction. He's a good dude. I'm sorry for everybody."
Leonard grew up in Southern California, which meant that Bryant and the Lakers were big for him. The two-time NBA champion went on to tell reporters what Bryant meant to him as a young player.
"Just everything he did," Leonard said. "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."
The Lakers and Clippers were scheduled to play on Tuesday, but the game was postponed due to Bryant's death. On Wednesday, the Lakers released an official statement on the death of Bryant and his 13-year old daughter Gianna who was also in the helicopter.
"We are devastated and have been forever changed by the sudden loss of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. We send our love to Vanessa, the Bryant family, and to the families of the other passengers," the Lakers' statement began.
"Words cannot express what Kobe means to the Los Angeles Lakers, our fans, and our city. More than a basketball player, he was a beloved father, husband, and teammate. Their love and light will remain in our hearts forever."
"The Mamba Sports Foundation has set up the MambaOnThree Fund to support the families affected by this tragedy. To help, please visit MambaOnThree.org. For those who are inspired to continue Kobe and Gianna's legacy in youth sports, please visit MambaSportsFoundation.org."