Kawhi Leonard says he knew the pilot on Kobe Bryant's doomed helicopter -- and had flown with him regularly -- even describing the guy as "one of the best."
The L.A. Clippers star opened up about his business relationship with Ara Zobayan during a media session after Wednesday's practice ... clearly still emotional about the tragedy.
"[I had] flown with him a lot," Leonard told reporters ... "Great guy. Super nice. He was one of the best pilots."
Kawhi Leonard says Kobe’s pilot, Ara Zobayan was a “good dude” and he would always use Ara to fly him to and from games. He mentions how Kobe would always tell Ara to let Kawhi know he said “Hi”. 📹: @AndrewGreif | #Lakeshow pic.twitter.com/aoeDyYrJVF— ShowtimeForum (@ShowtimeForum) January 29, 2020
Kawhi Leonard says Kobe’s pilot, Ara Zobayan was a “good dude” and he would always use Ara to fly him to and from games. He mentions how Kobe would always tell Ara to let Kawhi know he said “Hi”. 📹: @AndrewGreif | #Lakeshow pic.twitter.com/aoeDyYrJVF
Leonard says Zobayan would often joke about how he was dropping off Kawhi and going to pick up Kobe ... and would pass along messages between the two NBA superstars.
"He'll drop me off and say he was about to pick up Kobe -- 'Kobe said hello!' -- Or, he'll just be like, 'I just dropped Kobe off and he said hello!' You know, vice versa."
Leonard added, "He was a good dude. I'm sorry for everybody."
As we previously reported, Zobayan was an experienced pilot and certified flight instructor who had logged over 8,000 hours of flight time.
Officials believe Zobayan got caught in extremely thick fog on the morning of the fatal flight -- and crashed into a mountain while trying to fly out of the bad weather.
9 people were killed in the wreck including Zobayan, Kobe, his daughter Gianna and others.
When asked if he would continue to use private helicopters to travel, Leonard admitted he was still thinking things through ... saying, "There's a lot of thoughts in my head."
Leonard has previously talked about the major influence Kobe had on his NBA career -- and how Mamba motivated him to win a championship during his run with the Toronto Raptors.
"I thought about him every game. He was a sense of a drive for me last year just trying to win that championship."