Growing up in Southern California, Kobe Bryant was the guy for any kid playing basketball, including Los Angeles Clippers stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.
“He was my Michael Jordan growing up as a SoCal kid,” George told reporters following the Clippers’ practice Wednesday. “He was what every kid wanted to be here. I started playing basketball because of Kobe.”
Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among nine people who died in a helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas, California.
The Lakers-Clippers game scheduled for Tuesday was postponed.
Leonard confirmed he had flown with pilot Ara Zobayan, who was at the controls of the helicopter with Bryant and the others on board.
“Flown with him a lot. Great guy, super nice, he was one of their best pilots,” Leonard told reporters. “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 also grew up in Southern California, watching Bryant’s glory days with the Lakers. He said he couldn’t sum up their conversations in a sentence.
“Just everything he did,” Leonard told reporters. “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.”
“I attack the game the way he plays both ends,” George said. “I took so much things away from him, and he made a big impression on me as (a) kid, just about how to (go) about playing the game. I credit everything, aside from God-given talent, I credit everything else from him.”
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