Image courtesy Kurt Helin

Pilot in Kobe Bryant helicopter crash had FAA reprimand for flying in reduced visibility

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The pilot of a helicopter that crashed into a Southern California hillside, killing Kobe Bryant and eight others, was reprimanded five years ago for flying without permission into airspace while he had reduced visibility, according to a Federal Aviation Administration enforcement record.

Ara Zobayan was counseled by an FAA investigator after he violated FAA rules by crossing into busy airspace near Los Angeles International Airport on May 11, 2015, according to the record, which was first reported Friday by the Los Angeles Times.

The record doesn’t indicate whether Zobayan was carrying any passengers at the time.

Zobayan, 50, died Jan. 26 when his helicopter plunged at high speed into a hillside in Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles. Zobayan had been trying to climb above a cloud layer when the aircraft banked left and plunged 1,200 feet (366 meters) at high speed. There has been speculation that the pilot became disoriented in the foggy weather. The crash remains under investigation.

The crash also killed Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, along with six others. The victims will be honored at a Feb. 24 public memorial at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

At the time, Zaboyan was chief pilot for the charter service Island Express Helicopters Inc.

He was flying for the same company during the 2015 incident.

According to the FAA report, Zobayan’s helicopter was near the Hawthorne, California, airport and heading north when he asked the LAX tower for permission to cross LAX airspace. Zobayan was told that weather conditions didn’t meet the minimum for pilots using visual flight rules — that is, flying by sight.

Zaboyan was asked whether he could maintain “VFR conditions.”

Zaboyan replied that he could “maintain special VFR” — meaning he sought permission to fly by sight in less-than-optimal visibility.

When air traffic control denied the request and told him to stay clear of the area, Zobayan replied that he could “maintain VRF” but during the conversation, the helicopter entered the airspace, according to the record.

Zobayan contacted authorities and his company after the incident and was cooperative. But an FAA investigator faulted him for failing to properly plan and review current weather at LAX, which would have allowed him time to communicate earlier with the tower in order to receive clearance, according to the record.

The report said Zobayan “admitted his error, took responsibility for his action, and was willing to take any other necessary steps toward compliance.”

“There are no indications that this is a repeated incident and there are no signs that this incident is a trend with Mr. Zobayan,” the report said.

Zobayan was counseled “on operating in Class B airspace, special VFR weather minimums, proper planning, reviewing weather, and anticipating required action,” the report said. “He was cooperative and receptive to the counseling.”

Island Express Helicopters Inc, reported that it conducted additional ground and flight training with Zaboyan.

Veteran helicopter pilots were divided over the severity of the FAA violation, the Times reported.

“I don’t know a single pilot out there who hasn’t violated a rule,” Shawn Coyle said. “If that’s the only violation he’s ever had then I would say he’s pretty safe.”

But former Island Express pilot Kurt Deetz said entering LAX airspace without approval can be dangerous because of the possible presence of commercial jets. He also questioned Zaboyan’s communication with air traffic controllers.

“You can’t request special VFR and then they deny you and you say, ‘Oh wait a minute, actually I’m VFR’, ” he told the Times. “That’s not how it works. It shows that perhaps his understanding of special VFR as opposed to VFR was cloudy.”

Report: DeMar DeRozan unhappy with Spurs

Spurs wing DeMar DeRozan
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Facing the Kawhi Leonard trade saga, the Spurs had a clear objective: Remain competitive. That’s why they traded Leonard to the Raptors for veteran star DeMar DeRozan rather than accepting a pick-heavy offer. That wasn’t optimal for the franchise’s long-term health, but it at least paid short-term dividends. San Antonio made the playoffs last year, qualifying for a record 22nd straight season.

Now, the bottom has fallen out.

The Spurs are just 27-36 and will almost certainly miss the playoffs. DeRozan has a $27,739,975 player option that he’ll reportedly decline if the Spurs don’t sign him to a contract extension.

Jabari Young of CNBC on ESPN San Antonio:

Listen, I don’t have to sugarcoat anything. DeMar DeRozan is not happy in San Antonio, OK? The offense is not running as smoothly as one should think with a guy like him in the lineup, and there are problems are there, right? And so you have to decide if you’re going to take that money of if you’re going to come back to a situation that’s just not suitable. I mean, it didn’t work. They got the deal done. It’s over. I mean, the experiment is not working.

This report came before the NBA’s coronavirus shutdown, which could significantly decrease next season’s salary cap. That makes DeRozan (and everyone else with a player option) more likely to opt in. Base on the prior report, DeRozan is willing to stay in San Antonio for the right price. It’s increasingly likely that option-year salary is the right price.

DeRozan is a good player whose scoring – and, at times, passing – can be central in building decent offense. But he has a tandem of deficiencies that make it difficult to fit him onto a good team:

1. He doesn’t shoot 3-pointers to space the floor.

2. He doesn’t defend adequately.

That means his team must surround him offensively with other outside shooters. That’s doable.

His team must also surround defensively with other sound defenders. Again, that’s doable.

But it’s difficult to do both. Players who both shoot 3s well enough to attract attention AND defend well are obviously scarce.

Though DeRozan definitely has fans around the league, it’s another thing for him to expect an offer next offseason that justifies declining his player option. He and the Spurs could be stuck in this imperfect arrangement another year.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri worried about coronavirus in Africa

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Raptors president Masai Ujiri
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Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri is worried about the places currently hardest-hit by the pandemic, and especially worried about the places that haven’t been hit yet.

Ujiri told reporters on a conference call Wednesday that he’s been in contact with some leaders in Africa, plus has spoken with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about his talks with other African heads of state about their level of preparation for the new coronavirus .

“I think a lot of leaders are ahead of it, and the ones that aren’t are starting to pay attention because this is an unknown, this is an unseen enemy, and we have to really, really pay attention,” Ujiri said.

Ujiri is of Nigerian descent and founded Giants of Africa, a group that organizes camps and other events to use basketball as a way to promote education and growth for children on the continent. He says he’s unsure yet if his programs will go on this summer as planned.

“We’re just concerned about people, about health, about listening to what the directions are going to be moving forward,” Ujiri said.

When it comes to the NBA season, Ujiri said he’s hopeful play can resume. The Raptors won their first NBA title last season.

Report: Knicks interested in hiring 76ers’ Elton Brand as GM

76ers general manager Elton Brand
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The 76ers’ eventful offseason has fallen flat so far.

Al Horford (four years, $109 million with $97 million guaranteed) has generally underwhelmed and especially struggled to fit with franchise player Joel Embiid. At 33, Horford faces even more issues as he ages.

Though Tobias Harris has been fine, it’s hard to feel good about his five-year, $180 million deal. That contract makes it difficult to build a quality bench, even if ownership is willing to pay the luxury tax. Every team has spending limits, and Philadelphia has tied significant capital to a merely solid forward.

Josh Richardson isn’t shooting as well as he did while looking like a burgeoning star with the Heat. It’s also hard not to notice Jimmy Butler thriving in Miami.

The cumulative results are also concerning. Creating enough spacing around Embiid and Simmons was always challenging. This group isn’t coming close to answering that call. That has produced some strain throughout the season.

Will 76ers general manager Elton Brand take the fall for Philadelphia’s problems?

If so, he could have a fallback job under new Knicks president Leon Rose.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

According to a league source, Elton Brand has been targeted by Rose as a candidate for Knicks GM. Brand, 41, is currently the Sixers GM and is under contract next season, complicating any designs of bringing him to New York. The source said Rose wanted to see if Brand was dismissed after the playoffs.

It’s nearly impossible to see Brand going to New York unless the 76ers fire him. Though the titles in each franchise would be the same, they’re very different roles. He holds the top position in Philadelphia’s front office. With the Knicks, Brand would work under Rose.

Would the 76ers fire Brand? Maybe. It could depend how they do in the playoffs, and this team still has a championship upside this season.

Even with an early-round loss, Philadelphia seems more likely to fire coach Brett Brown than make a larger change. But it’s not as if Brand – who held minimal front-office experience when hired in 2018 – has done much to instill confidence. There’s not a great affirmative case for keeping him.

The Knicks have Scott Perry as general manager, but he’s a holdover from the Steve Mills regime. After all the handwringing about Steve Stoute saying the Knicks will hire a new coach while they still had Mike Miller as interim coach, this more reflects reality. Professional sports are a cutthroat business. It’s perfectly fine for the Knicks to seek a new general manager while still having someone in that position running out the clock.

Could that be Brand? He’s smart and connects well with people. His long playing career provides invaluable experience. He’d fit well as No. 2 in an NBA front office.

But, right now, he has an even better job.

Carmelo Anthony: Nuggets should have won 2009 championship

Carmelo Anthony in 2009 Lakers-Nuggets Western Conference finals
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Carmelo Anthony said he would’ve won multiple championships if the Pistons drafted him in 2003.

Of course, Detroit picked Darko Milicic No. 2. Anthony went to the Nuggets No. 3.

But Anthony still had a big opportunity to win a title.

Denver – led by Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin – reached the 2009 Western Conference finals. Facing the Lakers, the Nuggets lost Game 1 by two points then won Game 2 by three points in Los Angeles. The Lakers then won Games 3, 5 and 6 to take the series.

Anthony on Instagram with Dwyane Wade:

I was sick, because we were supposed to beat them that year. I don’t like saying “We should have.” I don’t like saying all that. But when you re-evaluate everything. We really wanted Orlando in that Finals that year. We was like, “If we get Game 1 in L.A. or Game 2, we’re going back to Denver, we’re sweeping them.” We was going to beat them. We was going to beat them that year if we would’ve won in L.A. If we would’ve won both games, we would’ve beat them. And we would’ve swept Orlando that year.

Wade:

Orlando was alright, but they weren’t –

Anthony:

No, would’ve swept them. We would’ve swept them that year.

Yes, Denver would have likely won the series if taking the first two games in Los Angeles. The Nuggets also would’ve had a strong chance against the Magic, whom the Lakers beat in five in the Finals.

But it’s a major leap just to give Denver another win in Los Angeles. The Lakers were better than the Nuggets throughout the season. The Lakers were better than the Nuggets in that series. The Lakers were better than everyone. They had just reached the NBA Finals the prior season and were on their way to winning consecutive titles. This wasn’t some unfortunate break for Denver.

And even if the Nuggets won Game 2, the series wouldn’t have been over as Anthony says. The Lakers were led by Kobe Bryant and had savvy veterans like Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher. They wouldn’t have just folded with a 2-0 deficit.

Sometimes, lesser teams beat better teams. The Nuggets COULD have beaten the Lakers.

But SHOULD have? Nah. Not even close.