Taking helicopters to quickly get from venue to venue had been a preferred mode of transportation in California. Especially for professional basketball players.
Kobe Bryant often relied on choppers to carry him from Staples Center in Los Angeles to his home in Newport Beach. It was the best way to beat the notoriously insane traffic the city has long been known for, not to mention a nice way for celebrities to keep a low profile.
Well, it used to be. Probably not anymore.
Following Bryant’s tragic death in a random and unforeseen helicopter crash, many are rethinking the way they get from point A to point B. For example, Clippers star Kawhi Leonard admitted to reporters on Wednesday that he is having serious second thoughts about continuing to use helicopters.
“The things that you hear, you don’t know what’s real yet,” Leonard told reporters, via ESPN. “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 Used Bryant’s Pilot for Quick Trips
When Kawhi Leonard landed in Los Angeles this past offseason, one of the first people he called was Kobe Bryant. He wanted tips from the sage veteran about the best ways to commute to work and get around town.
Bryant not only recommended helicopters but shared the name of his personal pilot, Ara Zobayan. Leonard took his mentor up on the offer and started using helicopters to help him travel from his home in San Diego to Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The short 120-mile trip can take three to five hours in California traffic, depending on the time of day. Instead, the Clippers star commissioned Zobayan to hover him around and even copied Bryant’s routine.
“Yeah, same pilot, everything,” Leonard said, via ESPN. “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.”
That wasn’t the only coincidence. Sometimes Zobayan would fly Bryant and Leonard on the same day and the two basketball stars would exchange messages via the pilot.
“Great guy. Super nice. He was one of the best pilots,” Leonard said. “That is a guy who you ask for to fly you from city to city. It’s just surreal still.”
Those Who Knew Him Considered Zobayan Great Pilot
Ara Zobayan wasn’t a man to take chances, especially not while up in the air. The pilot of the Sikorsky S-76B that crashed in Calabasas was seen as a “very by-the-book” aviator by those who knew him.
He was a certified ground instructor with more than 8,000 hours of flight time, per the Los Angeles Times. People loved and respected the 50-year-old Armenian beyond belief.
“Working for the aviation business has allowed me to meet some pretty amazing people and pilots,” a friend wrote on Twitter. “Ara was definitely one of them. Always so nice, talkative and especially attentive when it came to Kobe and his family. I’m heartbroken.”
It’s important to note that Zobayan isn’t being blamed for the crash that killed Kobe Bryant, although an investigation remains ongoing. Police and fire rescue continue to search the grounds in Calabasas and have roped it off as a crime scene. So far, no bodies have been discovered and they probably won’t.
“He was always the most genuine, personable,” another friend said of Zobayan, via Orange County Register. “He always made you feel important. He always gave you his undivided attention.”
For now, the entire NBA is getting his undivided attention as most teams have chosen to let 24 and 8 seconds run off the clock. It’s a small-yet-sorrowful tribute to Bryant, the future Hall-of-Fame basketball player who touched so many peoples’ lives.