Slick Leonard documentary, ‘Heart of a Hoosier,’ premieres Tuesday

It’s hard not to like the legendary Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard. In fact, I don’t know anybody that doesn’t like the Terre Haute, Indiana native.

From his legendary outfits and being successful in everything he’s been a part of, to “Boom Baby” known and shouted by Pacers fans around the world, Leonard, who will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame next weekend (Aug. 8), has left his mark on the Indiana community.

Leonard coached the Pacers to three ABA titles – 1970, 1972, 1973.

And that’s what Ted Green, a sportswriter of more than 20 years, follows in his fifth documentary, “Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard: Heart of a Hoosier.”

“With Bob Leonard, it’s really been a celebration – but also, I was just curious about this guy’s past,” Green said ahead of the world premiere Tuesday evening at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I was curious why he has the hold he does on people in this state. What is it about him, and finding out he became the man he is. Man, it’s been so much fun, it’s been a great privilege to work on this and to get to know Bob and Nancy.”

Over the weekend,  a private screening was held at Bob Netolicky’s home. That’s where Leonard and wife saw the final product for the first time. Also in attendance was Pacers executive Donnie Walsh and all the old ABA Pacers.

“I was very nervous going into that but they all seemed to enjoy,” said Green, who previously created documentaries on John Woodson, Hoosier Veterans, Indianapolis’ growth from Naptown to a Super Bowl City, and Roger Brown.

During his numerous trips around the country, Green spoke with an incredible list of names. Even though Green didn’t have a relationship with them, they accepted because of what Leonard means to them. To list a few: Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Jerry West, Mel Daniels, Bob Netolicky, Tom Crean, Senator Richard Lugar, and Elgin Baylor.

Among the items covered: Leonard’s game-winning shot in the 1954 NCAA title game while at IU, on a plane that nearly crashed because of a blizzard in Iowa, and some incredible stories from his time with the Pacers – going back decades.

Viewers will also learn how he got the nickname, Slick. While it does touch on his signature “Boom Baby,” call, it doesn’t go too deep into the subject.

“I thought that story was pretty much out there,” Green said. “But we do have pretty of fun with the ‘Boom Babys!’ You sort’ve can’t help that!”

See Also: Slick Leonard to be honored with 2014 Pathfinder Award

But maybe the most interesting – and lesser known – time period in Slick’s life is childhood.

“Everybody’s childhood shapes them, but I think with Bob it was an extreme just because of the time in which he grew up in,” said Green, who traveled to Terre Haute with Slick and his family. “We are talking about the Great Depression, and he and his family were very, very poor. It would have been so easy for Bob to go the wrong way, as he’s the first one to say. He had a lot of help from a lot of great people. People that didn’t have a lot of money but they just helped out this kid who was in need, and because of that, he became the person he is. And the person he is, is one who has been helping out other people and giving great joy to other people for the 60 years since his childhood.”

Slick with his wife Nancy after learning he was going into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

And you can’t cover Leonard’s life without Nancy, his wife of 60 years.

“A lot of it is on Nancy,” said Green. “Chonronilogically, we do look at a lot of Bob’s story before Nancy came along, but … after all the research, it became clear exactly how important she’s been in her life. She serves quite a bit more than spouse. She’s confidant, she’s agent, she’s behind-the-scenes person who gets things done.

“He doesn’t go without her. That’s the bottom line. The story ended up, as you’ll see especially toward the end of it, being about the two of them together.”

Leonard has all kind of incredible stories. The best ones I heard weren’t on the radio or in interviews, but at the Fieldhouse when I had conversations with the lively 82-year-old. He has served as the team’s radio analyst since the mid-80s.

A 90-minute film like this one can’t be made without financial backing. “Heart of a Hoosier” is presented by the Indiana Pacers, CNO Financial Group and The Samerian Foundation and The Herbert Simon Family Foundation.

With the money raised, the film complete, and the final product ready for public consumption, Green has mixed feelings ahead of the screening. His project, which he spent countless hours and some of his own dime on, takes center stage Tuesday.

“It was definitely relief (to be done) – but hell ya nervousness,” he said prior to the showing. “To put this thing on [the Bankers Life Fieldhouse] screen, the screen itself is like five times bigger than the actual studio where we’ve worked on it for these 16 months.”

Tuesday night will be special for Green, the Leonard’s and the Pacers community. At 7:15 p.m., the documentary will be shown on the Fieldhouse’s giant video board. Former Pacers Mel Daniels, George McGinnis, Bob Netolicky and Darnell Hillman are scheduled to be on hand. Click here to purchase tickets, which are $5.29 in honor of Leonard’s 529 career wins. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and parking is free at the Virginia Street Garage.

For those that can’t make it, the documentary will make its TV debut at 9:00 p.m. Aug. 7, airing on WFYI.

“He and Nancy, and their kids as well, they opened everything to me,” said Green, who is very grateful. “They trusted me, they treated me like family and honestly, that’s one of the cool things to come out of this.”

Watch an extended preview in the HD media player below:

One Response to Slick Leonard documentary, ‘Heart of a Hoosier,’ premieres Tuesday
  1. […] Leonard will forever be an icon in Indiana. He was known for his celebrated outfits, success as a coach as well as the phrase “Boom Baby.” The documentary was spearheaded by sports writer Ted Green. Green talked about what he wanted get out of this documentary with Vigilant Sports. […]